Some bands are all about dark moods, some traffic in furious rage, while others specialize in technical, progressive wankery. Over their 14 year career, Enforcer never sniffed any of those categories. Their chosen sound is all about old school, retro metal fun. From the speed metal styling of albums like Into the Night and Diamonds, to the hair metal on biker meth of From Beyond, the band always sought to rock your socks off without having to buy you dinner first. Zenith is the next stage of evolution for them, dabbling deeper into hard rock idioms while also incorporating trve metal influences and attempting to retain their 80s retro core. It’s got the expected metallic odes to excess and overdrive, and still worships at the altar of overkill, but not in the same ways the band used to. This time the speed is replaced by hard rock attitude and an even bigger dose of low-grade cheese than usual to completely clog up those ear arteries. This means the seasoning may not play into everyone’s spice palate.
Things get off to a shaky start on opener and lead single “Die For the Devil” which is like 80s cock rock for Satan – an idea I’m just not sure how I feel about. It’s piloted by simple hard rock riffs and has a radio-ready approach with a catchy chorus and carefree attitude. It’s silly and mindless fun, but not quite what you’d expect from Enforcer. “Zenith of the Black Sun” is a more “serious” number that sounds like a knowing parody of Hammerfall, and its mid-tempo, quasi-trve take is okay, but not the kind of high-octane fun I want from these Swedes. The unhinged speed doesn’t arrive until the third cut, “Searching For You,” which just serves to remind me how fun the band’s style can be when it all comes together, blasting along like Thin Lizzy plugged into a Slayer Yourself app (pat. pending).
Just as the party gets rocking however, questionable track order decisions come aknocking, and things abruptly shift to a mega-cheesy power ballad so over-the-top it makes me want to go screaming in the night in the cold November rain. This is not a compliment. Things do improve for the rousing stomp of “The End of the Universe,” which features the album’s best chorus, only to tank yet again when the highly annoying and shrill “Sail On” arrives, sounding like a Styx record playing at high-speed. The album winds out with a few forgettable cuts like the half-hearted anthem “Forever We Worship the Dark” and the overly long, Manowar-esque closer “Ode to Death,” leaving me unsatisfied and a bit bewildered. There’s a schizophrenic nature to the album, as some tracks want to retain the band’s speed metal roots, while others push something more epic and trve mixed with radio-themed hair metal. It’s an amusing idea on paper but it doesn’t translate into much success here, as only a few cuts really click with me.
My biggest complaint about Zenith is the absence of the reckless, manic riffing and harmonies that defined their past works. They always sounded like a band on the verge of losing control and going over a cliff, which made for an exciting listen. The new focus on mid-tempo numbers steered by rock riffs works at times, but results in a noticeable energy deficit that hamstrings the band. Olof Wikstrand and new axe Jonathan Nordwall can really play, and when they cut loose it’s a ton of fun. Unfortunately, they’re handcuffed to slower tempos over the majority of Zenith. Making matters worse, the band isn’t as skilled at this newly restrained style and cuts like “Regrets” and “Forever We Worship the Dark” are tough to love. Wikstrand’s high-pitched vocals work well when accompanied by high-speed, high-energy music, but they quickly become shrill and irritating when he tries to sing standard ballads. His voice is also poorly suited to quasi-epic metal cuts like “Ode to Death,” lacking the masculine gravitas necessary to pull off the steroid and loincloth aesthetic convincingly.
Zenith doesn’t deliver much of the kind of music I want from Enforcer, and despite generally dwelling in the Ancient Wheelhouse of Steel, their new olden style leaves something to be desired. Simply put, the band is no longer playing to their strengths. There are fun moments to take away, but this is a sizable step down from their last album. Speed kills, when it’s missing.