Arch Enemy | ‘Khaos Legions’
You can end up some pretty interesting places as a metal hack. Bands’ listening sessions generally aren’t one of them.
What happens at these things is that bands amble around, make nice, then play you their latest pride and joy. Journos’ heads bob. Pens tap in rhythm while the odd note is made, destined for no further than a coat pocket.
Afterwards, everyone agrees to really like what you did there to the band, and a sense of involved satisfaction is enjoyed by all.
Among the hacks not immediately skipping to get into a deep and meaningful with the band though, it’s all sniggers and cultivated indifference. But it’s ok, because there’s a few beers and a ham sandwich in it. You might also get a wee sticker.
Of course all this is for the run of the mill bands: it’s different when you’re invited to a more genuinely hallowed sanctum.
I would never for a second describe Arch Enemy’s ‘Doomsday Machine’ recording studio as genuinely hallowed. However that’s where I ended up on one such trip.
The inescapable conclusion I drew within about three seconds of it pounding out the fridge freezer size speakers was that this album was an overproduced splurge. Pleasant in parts. But a splurge.
Arch Enemy were never dirty, as such. So perhaps it’s an unfair criticism. It’s one that lingers though, deep into the heart of this new album. They’re at a career junction where they don’t quite know which yearning to give in to.
Should they try out a few new blast beats? Kick out the 90’s Megadeth mega crunch? Or tone down into the soft rock melodicism of Sweden Rock friendly kissing metal ditties? It’s all in ‘Khaos Legions’.
Actually, let’s just meditate upon that title for a tick. Khaos, in any form, is something neither Arch Enemy nor their label desire or tolerate in any way. If you want chaos in your music, you listen to Esoteric and Incantation. Not Arch Enemy. It’s that kind of embarrassing, youth oriented fallacy which discredits the band just a tad.
Yet don’t just pan them for the sake of it, or for the sake of their being popular. Arch Enemy are a manifestly great live band, and in Chris Amott have one of the most fluid lead players going.
The much bigger problem is that they seem to have run out of steam – a realization proven by 50% of the tracks on this album, and a further 50% of even it’s best tracks.
Opener ‘Yesterday Is Dead And Gone’ is the album’s best by a mile. Worringly, following this track’s groove and pumping metal vigour, everything else sounds deeply tired. Still though, it’s a good one and no doubt.
‘Bloodstained Cross’ tries to go a bit anthemic and ends up on a sleepwalk. ‘Under Black Flags We March’ is more of the same, somewhere around ‘moody’, with a melodic break typical of the band’s early years of filigree, though ultimately stale.
‘No Gods, No Masters’, despite a sentiment and a chorus so hammy it’s practically honey roasted, actually provides a bit of interest. When I mentioned Sweden Rock friendly kissing ditties, this is perhaps the closest. An uber melodic romp, it’s as if Camay decided to make a metal song. In its own way it’s preposterously camp, yet inexplicably diggable. It’s better not to ask. Some of it reminds me of Heart.
But here, listen. There are a few blastbeats scattered throughout that freshen things up. Granted a blastbeat does not a good song make, but ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ and especially ‘Cult Of Chaos’ (those pesky titles again!) show that the band can at least kick out some proper vim when required.
As interesting as the good tracks (mostly) are, cuts like ‘City Of The Dead’ are the sound of a band on auto pilot. Musically, Arch Enemy were doing that one back on ‘Burning Bridges’. Gossows contribution sounds phoned in, though in fairness it’s hard to see how such a plodding track could motivate anyone to do any better.
Same with ‘Through The Eyes Of A Raven’. There’s a nice squawking vocal effect in there, but nothing approaching a song. Which, it pays to remember, is exactly the currency by which a band like Arch Enemy either lives or dies.
It’s not a bad album, but much of it is tired. Is it good for younger metallers looking for a solid spin in modern times? Yes. Older and more cynical heads however will have heard all of this before and call it largely for what it is: another year and another album.
Maybe it’s the disingenuousness of the titles and the schtick that’s gnawing at me with a band like this. Maybe I should get over that and listen to it as a rock album, which is all its probably trying to be anyhow.
That would have been easy if there were more passion in the songwriting, and if every atom of personality hadn’t almost been obliterated by the hugeness of the sound.
This comes with a covers cd, by the way, which is largely better than the album. But this is about Arch Enemy’s music, not other people’s.
Let’ s be honest: they’re a fully capable and reasonably decent metal band. They’re losing the will to keep doing it, and this album, in presentation and content, betrays that.
2.9 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 06/07/11