Arch Enemy
Wages of Sin

Arch Enemy were tight-lipped about who would fill in for vocalist Johan Liiva after he left to form NonExist with Andromeda axeman Johan Reinholdz. Rumors were everywhere, claiming former Carcass frontman Jeff Walker would reunite with guitarist Mike Amott and take the mic for an album’s worth of trademark growls.

Alas, the rumors proved to be just rumors. At the same time, Arch Enemy still didn’t announce their vocalist until their website, www.archenemy.net, featured MP3s for the world to hear. Vicious, venomous and full of rage, the three tracks that debuted online proved that whoever is front of the microphone isn’t the type to sit idly while the rest of Arch Enemy, namely the two Amotts and drummer Daniel Erlandsson, flex their musical muscle in the form of a new album.

 Wages of Sin, the band’s fourth full-length, was not only a return to the ferocity and spontaneity of the debut Black Earth, but it’s also the first Arch Enemy album to spotlight a woman shredding her vocal chords. Non-Swede and Arch Enemy enthusiast Angela Gossow is one hell of a vocalist, and the musical backdrop of Wages of Sin provides the perfect showcase for Gossow and Arch Enemy to show the world they’re not out to make candy-coated metal as Stigmata once indicated.

Opener “Enemy Within” sets the tone for the majority of Wages of Sin. Gossow’s snarling, throaty delivery is not only the polar opposite of Liiva, but her presence is also highly commanding – imagine Death’s Chuck Schuldiner and In Flames’ Anders Frid’n sharing the same set of pipes. Musically speaking, Arch Enemy are mining their creative resources (Carnage, Carcass, Iron Maiden) to establish Wages of Sin as a heavier, more compact and definitely more aggressive album. The guitar playing of the Amott brothers is, of course, spectacular, but unlike Burning Bridges, where every song felt like a forum for the Amott brothers to show soloing prowess, the album sounds like a band aiming to stupefy metaldom as a collective unit. “Burning Angel,” on the other hand, comes close to reverting back to mere showmanship. The song’s framework is built around Michael Amott’s bluesy, atmospheric soloing; not that it’s a trait with which to be disappointed. Compared to the track’s successor, “Heart of Darkness,” there’s nothing here Arch Enemy haven’t established previously with better results. If Carcass’ Heartwork had, in fact, a proper follow-up, there’s no doubt “Heart of Darkness,” especially near the end, would be on the album.

The track’s down-tuned guitar attack is very indicative of the early Swedish death metal scene, showing more emphasis on a firm yet memorable rhythm than lead interplay. The expeditious “The First Deadly Sin” also holds Carcass’ “This Mortal Coil” in high regard not because it’s similar in sound, but the song exudes the same sense of urgency in the meticulous nature of the guitar work. “Ravenous” goes back the more solo-centric Arch Enemy, although in a heavier and more incisive direction. The lead off guitar work displays Children Of Bodom style flourishes, but before it turns into self-gratifying pretense, the song gives way to equal bouts of great rhythm licks and double bass drumming, something which Arch Enemy used to great effect on Black Earth.

The slower, methodical approach of “Savage Messiah” and “Behind the Smile” are quite unlike Arch Enemy in that there’s keyboard (no, Jens Johansson style fingering) mixed throughout the tracks -‘ such inclusion shows a greater understanding for overall composition and further grounds my statement as Arch Enemy acting as a cohesive outfit. Despite using Celtic Frost style guitar bends and stop-start structure (ala Nevermore) to build tension in the otherwise excellent “Behind the Smile,” there’s another familiar arrangement at work; namely Unleashed’s “Dead Forever” off their eponymous debut Where No Life Dwells. In fact, it’s exactly the same without the great cymbal work of Anders (Unleashed) rounding out the idea.

After four records, it’s debatable whether Arch Enemy should abduct achievements of the past with such blatant disregard for plagiarism. Then again, Unleashed borrowed warmly from Autopsy. In any case, the Amotts are still instrumentalists at heart – “Snow Bound,” like previous attempts with “Stigmata,” “Hydra” and “Vox Stellarum,” actually disrupts the smooth flow of the album. Take it or leave the guitar flowery and obvious skill, the track’s presence is to fill space.

With Wages of Sin, Arch Enemy have a new vocalist, a more defined and focused sound and a better idea of where the band is heading compositionally, so negative criticism aside the album will prove to be one of the brighter moments this year. The fact that it’s not out in North America or Europe when you read this could be some indication of Arch Enemy’s business sense -‘ they do really well in Japan and Asia ‘- but it also gives fans a reason to want Wages of Sin that much more. Wages of Sin is immensely impressive, but that shouldn’t be a surprise.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Dick
April 2nd, 2001

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