Sound — 7
Arch Enemy originally formed in 1996, originally intended to be a supergroup. In reality, the band was more of a solo project for Michael Amott in the beginning. As time went on, there were some line-up changes and the band because more of a "traditional" metal band. Angela Gossow replaced the original vocalist for the "Wages of Sin" album in 2001, which finalized the band in a lot of ways for several years. The exception would be Michael's brother, Christopher Amott, who left the band previously on a temporary basis to get his life right (reading between the lines it was almost certainly drug or alcohol problems), and then more recently he left on a permanent basis and was replaced by Nick Cordle since 2012. Angela Gossow "stepped down" (whatever that means), though she is remaining as the band's business manager, and has been replaced by The Agonist vocalist, Alissa White-Gluz. Interestingly enough, she was initially gonna front both bands but apparently The Agonist didn't like that idea, as they replaced Alissa with a relatively unknown female vocalist. "War Eternal" is the ninth studio album by the band and has 13 tracks that clock in at approximately 48 minutes. There were 3 singles released for this album: the title track, "War Eternal" was released in March 2014, "As the Pages Burn" was released in April 2014, and "You Will Know My Name" was released in May 2014. Both "War Eternal" and "You Will Know My Name" were released along with a music video.
"Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F Minor)" opens the album, which is essentially an instrumental track with some chanted choir-type vocals coming in the second half of the track. It is a very melancholy light track, which makes the next track, "Never Forgive, Never Forget" feel a little bit like getting slapped in the face when it comes in. The next two tracks are the title track, "War Eternal" and "As the Pages Burn," two of the singles from the album. They both give a great summary of the album in and of themselves as they completely capture the spirit and execution of the album. Aggression, melody, and Alissa's vocals. "No More Regrets" is a fast track with a lot going on with the guitars and great use of the two guitars in the band. Up next is the single "You Will Know My Name," which seems like it should have been written by Alissa (as a new member of the band), but this was actually Amott and Cordle (I guess Cordle is a new member, too). "Graveyard of Dreams" is a lot more about ambience than most of the album and is completely instrumental. "Stolen Life" does some interesting stuff with vocal processing, as well as having male backing vocals during parts of the track - which calls to mind the short little stint where Christopher Amott was providing backing vocals for Angela back in the day. It wasn't a bad idea then and it sounds good now, but I'm not sure which one of the other members is providing the backing vocals. "Time Is Black" is slow to get started, but it makes up for it when the heaviness comes in. I really gravitated towards a lot of the rhythm parts of this track - good stuff. "On and On" is one of the few tracks where the bass seems to be mixed at an audible level on the album, but this is probably one of the best tracks for Alissa's vocals for me. "Avalanche" has a pseudo-classical feel to the intro, and has some very catchy guitar lines for most of the track. "Down to Nothing" has some of the most successful use of melody from the album. "Not Long for This World" opens up with an interesting drum riff and a melody that truly stands out from the rest of the album, and this is also a fully instrumental track (and in my opinion it is at least as good as "Graveyard of Dreams").
Lyrics — 8
Alissa White-Gluz has some big shoes to fill in replacing Angela Gossow, but she definitely has started out strong. Vocally, they are probably a match in pure aggression, but Alissa does seem to enunciate just a tad better than Angela in later years, which is really crucial with screamed/growled vocals. As a sample of the lyrics from the album, here are some from "As the Pages Burn" which is credited to Michael Amott and Alissa White-Gluz: "As the pages burn/ secrets can't be unlearned/ silence can't be unheard/ knowledge is burden/ power is onus/ as the pages burn/ your memories fade/ freed from the gap of reality/ rejecting cognition/ as the pages burn/ sinking in a pool of ether/ the past is washed clean." As another example for contrast and comparison, here are some vocals from "You Will Know My Name," which was written by Amott and Nick Cordle: "their judging eyes watching me/ it's all I've ever known/ when I try to open up my heart/ I am ridiculed and torn apart/ your damn jokes I'll never get to hear/ behind my back at my expense/ there's something inside me/ and I know it's good, I'm not evil/ just misunderstood." You can definitely tell that Amott is the single thread running through both sets of lyrics.
Overall Impression — 7
I wasn't always a fan of the way the album is mixed. In some ways it seemed like it was sonically neutered, or over-produced on certain tracks. It was frustrating for me to the point where I tried some creative EQ'ing which helped - to an extent. Call me old fashioned but I don't think metal should sound too pretty - it should be a little bit rough around the edges, it should sound aggressive and loud. This is the only real weak point in the album for me. I thought the songs were well-written (all the songs credit Michael Amott as the writer, with about half of the tracks co-written with other members of the band), and the musicianship was immaculate and impressive. Practical application of a lot of fancy guitar-work. Daniel Erlandsson is as impressive as always behind the kit, and Sharlee pulls his own weight, even if he's a little lower in the mix than he should have been. My favorite tracks are the instrumental tracks ("Graveyard of Dreams" and "Not Long for This World") and I was also quite fond of the track "Stolen Life."