Arch Enemy keeps soldiering along, ever honing their super polished, shiny and pretty version of melodic death metal. This despite the departure of such key parts as guitarist Christopher Amott and vocalist Angela Gossow. Easy peasy, in comes Nick Cordle (Arsis) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist) and we get another typical Arch Enemy platter, full of power metal ideas smashed into melo-death templates and layered with snazzy guitar-work from Michael Amott. Though I admit to not having much cared for their style except on the early albums, a few of the catchier tracks on 2011s Khaos Legions did impress and stick with me. War Eternal doesn’t deviate much from what Khaos Legions did and you still get the power metal meets Gothenburg melo-death sound and there are some catchy, well-executed numbers here. However, there aren’t as many of those big standouts this time and on balance it’s a bit underwhelming, despite the ripping guitar-work contained within (of which there is a lot).
First things first, the new members acquit themselves well. While Alissa does what Angela did more or less, she isn’t going to wow any death metal afficiando and I’d prefer a much more brootal vocalist to offset the sugary music. However, I’m used to these guys having a screamy vocalist and Alissa does that about as well as Angela (who I was never blown away by either). The bigger success story is Nick Cordle. He brings a lot of chops to the table and as good as the guitar-work was on past albums, he seems to have upped the ante here as both he and Michael Amott let it all go with wild solos and richly melodic tomfoolery.
As for the songs themselves, they run the gamut from catchy and anthemic, to a bit flat and generic, with most of the tunes falling in the former bin and having some merit, though they tend to feel rather disposable (more on that later). “Never Forgive, Never Forget” offers a fairly aggressive, speedy dose of melo-death and the guitars get to shine in the riffing and especially the solos, which are tasteful and slick as all hell. The title track is the standout example of the power-death hybrid Arch Enemy is reaching for these days, sounding like a Brainstorm or Gamma Ray track with death croaks tacked on. It’s catchy and I enjoy the riffing, but it doesn’t hit as hard or as deep as the better songs on Khaos Legions.
The same can be said for songs like “As the Pages Burn,” “No More Regrets” and ” You Will Know My Name.” They manage to be catchy and are indisputably laden with impressive guitars, but they feel extremely lightweight and like cotton candy; you enjoy it while it’s on, but it leaves no trace and doesn’t fill you up. I give them full points for dabbling in gothic metal on “Stolen Life” and “Avalanche” and attempting more core-ish death akin to Scar Symmetry on “Time is Black,” and all are good, but fall into that same in category of “in one ear, out the other.”
Less impressive are tunes like “On and On” which is dull despite the almost neo-classical noodling and doodling, and “Down to Nothing,” which has nicely rough vocals from Alissa, but isn’t particularly interesting or memorable otherwise.
Basically, War Eternal is a album full of shiny, candy-like melo-death that goes down like sweet cream, but doesn’t stick or necessitate repeat listens. I surely didn’t mind spinning it, but I have no real desire to ever hear it again. At least Khaos Legions forced a few songs onto playlists and drew me back over the years. Except for the title track, that won’t happen here.
Add a point if you are a slavish guitar whore and live for wild solos, regardless of the quality of the songs they appear in. For the rest of you, War Eternal is another slick, highly melodic and somewhat soulless Arch Enemy outing without any danger or intensity. At least the cover doesn’t look like a third rate video game this time.