Sunday, May 25, 2014

Arch Enemy - War Eternal

I tried thinking of a title, but I farted instead

Show of hands, who listened to Khaos Legions


See, 2011 marked a strange time for Arch Enemy.  For the first time since the turn of the millennium, nobody gave a shit about the band or the fact that they had a hot blonde growling like a demon.  People had finally gotten tired of their shtick, and the grrl power fangirls and horny zitfaced dorks that helped propel them to superstardom in the early 2000s had presumably finally grown up and become a cog in the machine or touched a boob for the first time.  Arch Enemy is one of the safest bands in the universe, and Khaos Legions was their wake up call that they needed to do something different, challenge themselves, or even just fucking give a minute amount of effort in order to regain all the fans they'd apparently lost over the course of the decade.

Enter War Eternal, the heaviest, most aggressive, and most creative album they've presented fans with since Black Earth all the way back in 1996.  Those soaring melodies are now unlike almost anything I've ever heard, creating soundscapes that elicit haunting imagery and empowering violence.  The vocals have been amped up and given a huge amount of diversity, ranging from really deep, Immolation-esque bellows and high pitched shrieky insanity like Nattramn or Maniac.  There are little touches of brilliance scattered throughout the runtime that they'd never have dared to touch on before, like much more aggressive drumming, dissonant, twisted riffing, and a new focus on atmosphere above all the straightforward rocking.  It's so different from the uninspi-

PSYCHE! You didn't buy that shit for a second, did you?  Of course they didn't do anything new, they just replaced Angela with a younger and hotter girl and then wrote Wages of Sin for the sixth time.  Because of course they fucking did.

I gotta say, I may have thought their music sucked for the past fifteen years, but I did actually respect Arch Enemy for never overtly sexualizing Gossgow.  Amott kicked out Liiva because he was an awful vocalist (and if you disagree you're in denial), Gossgow got the job because she was a fan who loved those old songs, had a much better voice, and great stage presence and chemistry with the rest of the guys.  She dressed like a metal fan, she acted like a metal fan, she just simply was a metal fan and the fact that she was thin and attractive was just a peripheral thing that she and the rest of the guys never put much stock into.  When Angela decided to step down from performing, Amott could have hired anybody to fill her shoes, and the fact that he chose Alissa White-Gluz shows that I was wrong all these years and the band really does just want to milk the "hot frontwoman" card.  I gave the band the benefit of the doubt and now I look like a fucking idiot.  Take one look at the music video for the title track here and you'll see how unashamedly shallow the band has gotten with their image, with Alissa in this sexy skintight outfit with strategically placed rips and tears, moving her hips seductively and pointing at the camera.  Gossgow put on war paint and combat boots and raised her fist, White-Gluz gives fuck-me eyes and dances like a stripper.  Fuck all of you talentless hacks.  You wanted attention?  Well fuck you, I'll give it to you, it just won't be anything remotely positive.

War Eternal is, at its core, just another bland and faceless Swedish melodeath album.  If you couldn't see this band, you would never care about them; I feel like the band has come to realize this, so they put minimal effort into the musical aspects of their business, instead making damn sure they look good enough to sell tickets and VIP meet and greet packages.  The album tries to fake you out a few times, like with legitimately very aggressive verse riffs in "Never Forgive, Never Forget" and "Down to Nothing", and a few melancholic acoustic intros in the middle of the album, implying that they might let the vocals showcase their talents (I mean the girl sang with Kamelot and filled in for Nightwish, she obviously has to have some pipes) by moving the songs into completely unknown territory.  But no, there are just three songs in a row with a fakeout intro before going straight back into the old "Iron Maiden with growls" thing the band always does.  Alissa is relegated to hitting one note the whole album, and I guess I get it since that's the same note the band has always hit for the past several years and they clearly didn't want to try anything different, but it just hammers home how terrible of a choice she was for the part.  She has range, she has diversity, she has talent, but she's pretty and can growl, so just stand there and look pretty and growl.

I realize it seems like I'm letting the outside aspects of the band influence my opinion of this album, and maybe I am, but this is a rare case where such a thing wouldn't be unfair.  It all just coalesces into this giant statement that hammers home how hollow the record truly is.  There's no passion here, it's just eleven cookie-cutter melodeath songs with two pointless interludes and that's it.  It feels like nothing more than a necessary prerequisite for promotional photos and touring.  I wish I could explain in more detail precisely why War Eternal is so inconsequential, but really you could just listen to any of the last six albums and understand exactly why.  The whole album is full of passionless non-riffs and harmonized leads while a rhythm section exists in the background and some vocals function as white noise in the foreground, that's it.  That's the whole album in one sentence.  Potentially the worst part is that, like always, the leads are very, very good.  This is the first time they've released an album without the greater Amott, but Michael and the dude from Arsis do a fine job of playing off each other, widdly weeing away very frequently and almost always with exciting results.  It's such a shame that a talented player can be such an atrocious writer, because as soon as he sits down to write anything that doesn't sound like it could be played on a breezy mountaintop complete with sweeping crane shots of his hair blowing in the wind, he presents one of three inconsequential riffs and seven of nine Iron Maiden melodies layered on top.  With the exception of some (admittedly pretty neat) synths in "Time is Black" and "Avalanche", every single song follows the same template with the same key and same tempo and same theme and same everything.

War Eternal is just uncreative and uninteresting and that's really the beginning and end of it.  One aggressive riff and one synth line don't make up for the other nine songs of pointless filler, recycled melodies, and uninspired vocal lines.  It's melodeath-by-numbers and I can guaran-goddamn-tee you that once I press the "publish" button, I'm never going to listen to this again.  It's a pointless nothing-album that inspires no emotion other than all encompassing boredom.  There's nothing worthwhile to be found here and all but the most diehard fans of the band are going to find nothing to warrant more than one curious listen.  And the band has shown time and time again that they really have no intention of injecting these new hook focused songs with the dark splendor of the older songs, despite that being essentially the only thing the band could logically do at this juncture to make themselves interesting again from a musical standpoint. 

RATING - 15%

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Destrose - Destrose


I am a man who likes manly things.  In my free time, I like to chop down trees and oil my beard (which is approaching three feet in length).  I chew on car tires because it helps strengthen  my jaws, which is imperative when I participate in my bi-weekly bear wrestling matches.  Those fuckers may be strong and fierce, but it doesn't matter what species you are, a bite to the nipple is a bite to the nipple regardless.  There are no real rules in underground bear wrestling circuits, it may seem like a dirty tactic, but there's no honor where your opponents are concerned, believe me.

And amidst all the grime and bear blood and Motorhead, there's Destrose, the cutest fucking thing I've ever seen.

I've long stopped caring about the outside perspective on my taste in music, and it's that kind of detached apathy that is almost required before delving into a group like Destrose.  I've voiced my love of sugary Japanese power metal in the past, and Destrose's self titled first album is no exception, but unlike... say, Light Bringer, this is more than just sugary or light.  This shit is... just... fucking cute.  I don't know any other way to describe it, just look at the band members!  They're all dressed like Rozen Maiden characters and have the most innocent faces I've ever seen, I had no choice but to fall in love at first sight.  I want to buy all of them ice cream.

But pushing the obvious gimmick aside, this is an alleged metal album, right?  Therefore, the music should be the focus, and it's clear from looking at the album cover that the aesthetics definitely came first with Destrose.  Well... actually, I don't know how true that is, because the music contained is actually really, really good.  I don't mean solely in the realm of giggly J-pop, because of course anything with heavy guitars would stand out (why do you think Baby Metal has been making such waves lately?), I mean standing alone as a heavy metal album, Destrose does an extraordinarily great job of letting the music stand on its own merits.  You're not going to find any riffs as brilliant as on Don't Break the Oath or something, but everything here ranges from serviceable to great, and then amps everything up with a massive jolt of energy.  For a band so clearly designed as a marketing gimmick, it really shouldn't even be allowed to be this strong.

Like most heavy/power metal, the melodies are the main attraction here.  That's not to say the rhythm section isn't impressive, but they don't stand out nearly as much as the subtle keys and soaring guitar lines.  The vocals are a huge draw as well, but if you take them away, there's nothing that would clue you in to the band's image or country of origin.  Really, these riffs can get surprisingly dirty (check "Sword of Avenger", "Lifer 13" or "Hakai no Bara"), and there are big heaps of punkish aggression peeking through select songs, especially near the end of the album.  Overall the band leans more towards the "heavy" side of "heavy/power metal", and it helps set them apart from the countless Nightwish clones of the world who think that a pretty voice can only be accompanied with light, easy to listen to music.  The shredding solos sprinkled liberally across the duration are another huge plus for any fan of metal in general, as it keeps any given section from growing dull and shows that Mina has got some chops to go alone with that adorable visage.

I'm doing my damnedest not to keep mentioning the band's image or stereotypes associated with their country of origin, but dammit it's just too much of an elephant in the room to avoid.  The vocals are very much that style of saccharine-smooth giggliness you would normally associate with J-pop, so even though the music is 100% hard and heavy, her voice will almost always be involuntarily knocking your mind back into that sparkly mindset that you really should do everything in your power to avoid.  Despite that, she's still a damn good vocalist, with some killer range and a totally wicked vibrato.  She has a shitload of control over such a powerful wail, and it's very impressive.  It helps that her technical skill meshes so brilliantly with the music on hand.  In another universe, Doro Pesch could be behind this album with very little changes (maybe a little less keys and a dirtier tone), but this girl instead commands your attention with a very clean, precise, and voluminous wail.  Hell, she even gets in some Doro-esque snarliness on the "Hakai no Bara", so she's not only impressive and ear catching, but sports some unexpected variety as well.

Overall Destrose is an album that could (and likely will) be defined by western audiences by its gimmick of populating the band with the five most adorable women in Japan, but in a just world, the sharp hooks and catchy choruses would propel the music past the far too easy to criticize image.  Alas, it's a very solid heavy metal album with a thin veneer of melodic power metal looming over the traditional riffage.  It's admittedly a very niche sound it's catering to, but apparently I have just enough of the spirit of a little girl to be totally into it.

Also the bassist and drummer are so fucking cute I just wanna hug them and aaaaaaahhhhhh!

RATING - 85%