Arch Enemy // Khaos Legions
Rating: 3.0/5.0 —Less death but more heart
Label: Century Media Records
Websites: www.archenemy.net | myspace.com/archenemy
Release Dates: EU: 2011.05.31 | US: 06.07.2011

Looks like the Amott brothers are back in town. That town being Gothenburg (as in the “Gothenburg style”) and their band is the long running Arch Enemy, purveyors of slick, polished, (and some would say soulless) melodic death. Khaos Legion is their eighth full length and the first since 2007’s Rise of the Tyrant (not counting their 2009 re-recording of material). I was a supporter during their early years but with the Wages of Sin album, things took a turn and never felt the same. Although I gave subsequent releases a spin or two, by and large I wasn’t interested in their overly clinical, sterile and generic brand of death metal for the unwashed masses. With this track record of vaguely condescending ambivalence, I approached Khaos Legions with low expectations and much to my surprise, this isn’t all that bad. It’s certainly going to raise some eyebrows though because its much more melodic, mellow and restrained. While there are a few “heavy” songs, this is almost like a power metal album at times (albeit with death vocals). While there’s nowhere near enough death here to satisfy most fans of that genre, the more family friendly approach results in some enjoyable, lightweight quasi-power metal that will amuse some (while royally pissing off many).

After the overlong intro, the first sample if 2011 Arch Enemy is “Yesterday is Dead and Gone” which starts off in a familiar but tamer style. The song has plenty of Angela Gossow’s adequate but unexceptional death shouts, some semi-interesting riffing and of course there’s no shortage of the usual Amott guitar pyrotechnics and classy solos. One of these classy leads plays over the chorus and its such a winner that it saves the song from mediocrity. After that, Khaos Legions goes on a respectable run of quality songs with some new flavors. “Bloodstained Cross” has a Slayer/Testament feel to the riffs and a surprisingly slow, melodic chorus that’s amplified once again by solid fretwork. Then things take a decided turn for the lighter side. “Under Black Wings We March” could easily have appeared on a Brainstorm or Symphorce album if you dumped the death vocals. It’s power metal all day long and its actually very good. Pushing things even further, “No Gods, No Masters” sounds like mid-period Stratovarius with death vocals. It’s got that same hooky style with the stadium rock leads playing off the vocals. Even with Angela’s screeching and grunting, it works well and may be the highlight of the album. After that, they try to toughen things up and “Through the Eyes of a Raven” has a vaguely Amon Amarth vibe and its memorable and entertaining in a Viking-lite way. Elsewhere, they try their hand at blackened death with “Cruelty Without Beauty” and once again its more hit than miss.

Arch Enemy 2011Sadly, the Amotts can’t keep the magic going and the second half of Khaos Legions is less engaging. Later tracks like “Cult of Chaos,” “Thorns In My Flesh” and “City of the Dead” signify an unwanted return to the generic Arch Enemy of old and the quality levels sags accordingly. That isn’t to say the songs don’t all have moments of inspired Amott guitar wizardry but I found myself wading through generic riffing and uninspired grunting as I waited for the next fretboard gymnastics moment. There’s too much cookie cutter chug chug riffing between the epic solos and that isn’t what makes for a good song.

Another issue is the “modern” production and overly clean, crisp guitar tone. There’s absolutely no edge or danger to it. While this isn’t so noticeable on the pseudo power metal songs, when they try to go all hard and deathy, it simply doesn’t sound convincing. Polish is one thing but this production polished the heavy and the death right off the damn table.

This is the first Arch Enemy album I’ve found palatable since 99’s Burning Bridges and although it won’t rip your face off and leave you beaten and bloody (try Hate Eternal‘s new one for that joyful experience), the strange power metal/death fusion  is worth a casual looksee. I doubt I’ll be listening to this a year from now but for the time being it will get some selected track play. By the way, the album cover looks like a cheesy Xbox game doesn’t it?