Sound: First of all, this album is a pleasant surprise. Today's metal scene is bursting at the seams with all things melodic death, and therefore it is increasingly harder to keep a fresh sound and approach to the new music in the genre. On Rise of the Tyrant, Arch Enemy aren't breaking new ground, but the result is still just as satisfying.
On first impression, there's nothing overly new here; low, heavy riffing interspersed with melodic harmonies and hooks, aggressive vocals, soaring lead work and pounding drums. The songwriting is solid, but keeping within the general melo-death style. Where this album wins, is in the fact that the guitar work is good, the riffs sound original and fresh, solos are really pleasing (both in terms of the recording and the actual playing), and the fact that the band sounds tight. The entire record gives the impression of a band that has a single vision, and connects with one another musically.
Production is one of the best points about Rise of the Tyrant. The mix is clear, though some of the riff sections occasionally sound a little messy. The drum recordings are crucial on a metal album, and it was a relief to hear that on this album the sound is brutal, and most importantly, breathing. The only complaint about the production is the bass gets lost in the overall sound every now and then. My favourite aspect is the lead work by and far. Whereas rhythm is grounded, low and dirty, the solos are given a lot of room to work with, and it pays off -- the notes literally sing, and bring the additional emotive aspect.
Rise of the Tyrant begins with a disquieting siren of Blood On Our Hands, which remains one of my favourite songs. It gives an appropriate taste of the album from the main perspectives. That's not to say that the entire album sounds the same, however/ The Gothenburg sound is tried-and-true, but it doesn't get in the way of the album's eleven songs, which will keep the sound well alive into 2007. There are points where the music does sound a little tried, but those times are relatively few. // 8
Lyrics: The vocals have never been my favourite parts of Arch Enemy's sound, so Rise of the Tyrant was the testing point in my view; either this is going to be the end of my interest in any new (or old) Arch Enemy, or I'll actually start paying attention. The result, I believe is the latter. Angela Gossow isn't the best vocalist in the metal scene, but she's not the worst either, and this record shows a significant improvement. The consistency of her performances is higher, and from all points it is obvious that she stepped up to a new level for the album. Quite impressive indeed.
The lyrics are a bit of a disappointment. No, they are not completely awful. Nor do they make me cringe at any particular point. At the same time nothing really new is here, and I may find that I'm listening more and more to the argument of vocals are just another instrument. If you have been a long-time fan, you'll know that generally they're anti-religious and full of social commentary. Generally I have nothing against that, but as with a lot of other AE lyrics, it comes across as a bit lazy and uninspired. Bypass them unless it's your first metal album. // 5
Overall Impression: I've always been somewhat sceptical towards Arch Enemy, especially when it came to vocal delivery and a lot of rhythm work. As the Gothenburg sound is oversaturated with bands, it is becoming more difficult to find something that stands apart. Rise of the Tyrant might not break a lot of new ground, but it is most certainly a step up from any of their previous efforts. The playing is tight and proficient, Angela's vocals are brutal and aren't forced; the production quality means that all instruments are heard, and each has room to breathe.
The album touches on many familiar elements of melodic death metal without making them sound cliche. The brutal rhythm guitars and powerful, fast-paced drums, melodic breaks and clear soloing are all present, with a few electronic flourishes to add atmosphere. What is crucial at making this album work is the improvement in songwriting and unity of the band in their approach.
For a band that has become a love-or-hate amongst the fans, this is an important album. Again, some may find it doesn't offer them anything and move on, or continue praying that one day AE will release their dream album and they will be their favourite band again. Either way, this album is directly responsible for the resurrection of my interest in what Arch Enemy does. Furthermore, their 3rd album with Angela seems to finally justify her gig as the band's vocalist. She may not be the best, but certainly has enough ability to do these guys justice. Her performance is consistent, and fits the music very well. A very pleasing effort. // 7