Review Summary: All of modern melodic death metal's worst traits are wrapped up in a bitter package known as War Eternal, a fatal blow to Arch Enemy's already-dwindling reputation.
I've long considered Arch Enemy one of metal's great guilty pleasures; while they never achieved the overall level of quality many of their contemporaries reached in their heydays (Dark Tranquillity, Children of Bodom, etc.), they've been known to have a really fun anthemic quality to their music nonetheless. And that's what it really comes down to... I don't think many people take the band's music very seriously, but judging by how flat-out entertaining songs like "Nemesis" and "Silent Wars" are, this point can be pretty convincing. Unfortunately, it doesn't always mask the sad truth that much of Arch Enemy's output is hopelessly generic, particularly when it comes to both guitar leads and the primary riffs that serve as the basis for each song. Aaaaaand unfortunately, that's a serious problem when it comes to a genre like melodic death metal, with which both of those factors prove to be two of the most important elements of a band's sound. Both the leads and riffs are the primers that hold the songs together, and lead guitarist/primary songwriter Michael Amott has proven his penchant for creating bland motifs and solos for the last 10 years or so. However, there was one glimmer of hope on the horizon when looking at War Eternal: the fact that Angela Gossow would be replaced by The Agonist frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz. While Gossow was a great death metal singer, some fresh blood in the band would at least hopefully prompt some change in the band's dynamic and style. Well, that's wishful thinking, isn't it?
War Eternal proves that getting too comfortable with one specific style over time can prove fatal to a band's work, the entire record being littered with bland composition after bland composition. While there are some interesting moments here and there, such as the soft clean guitar-driven intro of "You Will Know My Name" or the electronic experimentation of the bonus Mike Oldfield cover "Shadow on the Wall," they aren't frequent enough to distract from the overall mediocrity at work here. First of all, the production is about as lifeless and synthetic as things can get, completely draining the impact of the more inspired and heavy riffs on the record; the whole album suffers from the same overproduction as many of the mainstream deathcore records from bands like Suicide Silence and Emmure. Compare this to records like Children of Bodom's Halo of Blood or Carcass' Surgical Steel, which have a clean sound to them but just enough rough edges to make them sound menacing. However, of course, the music itself doesn't help the band's case at all.
After listening to this album many times, I can safely say that I remember almost none of it; the riffs and melodies are so uninspired that it's simply remarkable that nobody from Century Media told them to alter their work before packaging it for record stores. Along with the production adding to the mediocrity, there almost seems to be a general lack of interest from the musicians as well. The title track, for instance, utilizes a grand total of one note (C) for most of its main riff, before devolving into a boring mid/fast-tempo set of melodies that sound recycled right out of a Carcass record. Songs like "Stolen Life" and "As the Pages Burn" go more for the "fast and brutal" approach, only to feature even blander riffs that end up muddled under White-Gluz's overdone vocal performances anyway. Speaking of which, Alissa's vocals aren't all that remarkable here; while it's nice to hear someone other than Gossow in this band for a change, Alissa certainly doesn't sound as inspired here as she did in The Agonist. However, I'll admit that the clean vocals she occasionally employs are a nice change in pace from the typical growls and screams... one just wishes they were perhaps used a bit more, honestly. When you get down to it, though, the compositions are what absolutely kill this record. Even a song like potential highlight "Avalanche," with its interesting keyboard arrangements and neoclassical vibe, instantly kills its own inspired intro with an extremely weak verse; once the keyboards come back in, the experience just feels inconsistent and underwhelming.
As if I haven't hammered the point into your heads enough, the entire album is just so damn uninspired and bland. It goes beyond that, though... it may sound tough for a metal album to put somebody to sleep, but this could easily do the trick. Every good moment on this record, such as the occasional usage of a dark atmosphere or some of the vocal highlights, is completely raped and pillaged by every boring riff and the choruses that define the phrase "going through the motions." The entire package feels synthetic, unappealing, unimaginative, sloppily written, sloppily paced, and just awful from almost every conceivable angle. Even with a new singer, War Eternal is just a depressingly lifeless mess of a record. Look on the bright side, though: at least it makes for a good coaster for your beverage, as well as a good substitute for reading bedtime stories to your kid(s) at night!
Choice cut(s): You Will Know My Name