What is it about the Japanese? They hve one of the most weird and quirky cultures with music to match (and yes I am speaking from experience, I've been there), yet they fully embrace countless metal bands and make them international stars, when the rest of the world turns a blind eye.
Arch Enemy were in this position circa 1999. Ex-Carcass man Michael Amott had formed the band some 5 or so years before and they had released two well-received (in the European underground metal scene) albums which helped to define the Melodic Death genre which Carcass had spawned with 1993's "Heartwork," yet the only country where the band were truly getting the headlining shows mass-adoration and recognition they deserved was Japan.
"Burning Bridges" didn't really change this situation, which is a shame, because it is among their most focussed work to date (only rivalled, IMO by its successor "Wages Of Sin" which incedentally, was the first album to gain the band wider recognition throughout Europe and eventually the USA). It was also their last album to feature the quite frankly scary vocal talents of Johan Liiva.
Those familiar with latter-day Angela Gossow-fronted Arch Enemy may find the former's vocals hard to deal with. I personally think they are on a par with Angela's. Whereas Angela has a very strong delivery, Johan tore his tonsils clean out in every song, and had a much more aggressive vocal style (the only comparison I can think of would be Peter Dolving of The Haunted, but rougher). The only downside is that on a few songs, he appears to unleash a torrent of words that don't quite fit, almost as though he is cramming as many words into one space as possible. Sometimes this works well, sometimes not so well, but it always makes for a varied and interesting listen.
The guitar work is pretty much what defines Arch Enemy, and on "Burning Bridges" there is much more variation than on the albums the band has released since. There are crushing riffs, such as the one which kicks the album out of the speakers with "The Immortal" and truly jaw-dropping solos, in the aforementioned opening track, (just when you think it's all about to spiral out of control, everything comes together again in a huge melodic orgasm of a second solo!) "Seed Of Hate," "Angelclaw," and "Silverwing" to give but a few examples. The Amott brothers' ability to harmonise is absolutely second to none, a trait most noticable in the nifty descending intro licks of "Angelclaw" but present almost everywhere in the albums eight impressive tracks.
Like most metal albums the bass is fairly nondescript, but Sharlee does a good job of providing a solid backbone to the Amott brother's guitars, and complimenting the amazing drumming skills of Daniel Erlandsson (who, incedently gets a solo of his own in the intro to "Pilgrim"). Of course, all these musical joys would be in vain if they were rendered in crappy sound quality, but thankfully this is not the case, as the team of Frederik Nordstrom and Mike Amott do a cracking job.
There is also an element of the unexpected in the form of the epic, doomy title track which brings the album to a close. An unusual choice for Arch Enemy, and not one that necessarily suits them well, but its good to see experimentation pushing the genre forward (these guys are arguably the leaders) and an interesting twist to end the album.
If any criticism can be levelled at "Burning Bridges," it is that the lyrics are a bit of a let-down. The content seems to be split half and half: half good quality lyrics, and half cheese. This doesn't leave too much of a bad taste though.
+ Amazing musical skill from all of the band.
+ Some great melodies.
+ More agressive than their later work.
+ Great production.
+ Occasionally ropey lyrics
+ Although arguably as good as Angela's, Johan's vocals may be an acquired taste for some.
Overall, this is definitely an album worth getting if you have even a passing interest in Death Metal, or just good guitar-based music, and is definitely some of Arch Enemy's finest pre-Angela Gossow work.