Review Summary: Times Have Changed. Not Really.
Since the release of ‘Khaos Legions’, an album steeped in deepening mediocrity, it was expected of Arch Enemy to make one or two changes to re-establish their paling relevance. A fluctuation in line-up notwithstanding, the band’s 2014 release ‘War Eternal’ still feels tired and formulaic despite efforts to revitalise their sound. Whilst not as criminal as its predecessor, the album smacks of missed opportunity and a failure to diversify or substantiate. With only a smattering of highlights and a lack of the improvement necessary to draw a broader audience, it is hard to recommend ‘War Eternal’ or to justify its place in Arch Enemy’s catalogue.
Alissa White-Gluz, formerly of The Agonist, never quite manages to make the album her own despite a capable vocal performance. Unlike Angela Gossow’s influence on the redefinition of Arch Enemy’s sound in ‘Wages of Sin’, a lot of the tracks to which White-Gluz has lent herself seem bland and uninventive. Opener ‘Never Forgive, Never Forget’ and the title track suffer particularly from this, being quietly inoffensive despite misplaced attempts at bite. Others, such as ‘Stolen Life’, are jarringly familiar, demonstrating an unwillingness to radically change structure or composition. Amott’s writing has worn itself into a rut; few of these songs share in the band’s earlier dynamism.
On occasion, forays into electronics and keyboards, as seen on ‘Khaos Legions’, create confusing clashes of sound. ‘No More Regrets’ feels incoherent, its chorus muddled and without a vocal hook. ‘Time is Black’, whilst one of the better tracks to be found here, is marred by faux-orchestral overtones that partly complement, partly detract. It is difficult to see what Arch Enemy were aiming for here, especially considering it was not accompanied by any real use of White-Gluz’s potential for clean vocals. Considering the rest of ‘War Eternal’ is largely by-the-numbers, these elements feel misplaced, as if the band was unready to commit to incorporate them fully. The instrumental interludes and intro also jar with the flow of the album, the latter especially being a pretentious, pale attempt at atmospherics that was ultimately unnecessary.
However, ‘War Eternal’ does have its points of interest. Second single ‘As the Pages Burn’ may not be particularly original, but it does succeed in exhibiting how Arch Enemy’s slightly harder leanings can work. ‘Avalanche’ is also reasonable, although it is followed by the acutely torpid instrumental ‘Down to Nothing’, which closes the album on a decidedly low note. ‘You Will Know My Name’ has a catchy melody, if one that is a little clichéd, and has a chorus that is prime for live performance. Unfortunately, these highlights are few and far between, not enough to distinguish Arch Enemy from their contemporaries in an increasingly competitive scene.
To conclude, ‘War Eternal’ is a constructive movement forwards when compared to its predecessor and does demonstrate limited willingness to diversify Arch Enemy’s sound- however, when compared to the band’s back catalogue in its entirety, the album fails to offer enough meat to justify trawling through its largess of filler. Although a scramble up the walls of creative depression, ‘War Eternal’ is not sufficient to convince the band’s disillusioned fanbase and, in the broader scope of things, may see Arch Enemy continue to slide into irrelevance and obscurity.