Review Summary: What Arch Enemy could/should have sounded like...
By the time 2004 had begun, most of the more notable melodic death metal bands had already released their genre deifying classics and were begging to drain the well of any fresh ideas. While a few like Dark Tranquility, Opeth and maybe Hypocrisy were still turning out quality albums their brethren including but not limited to Arch Enemy, In Flames, Soilwork (up until recently) and The Haunted had either attempted to mainstream their sound for greater exposure or simply felt content rehashing older material with the hope that they might stumble upon that proverbial spark of lightning. Hearse on the other hand, who began in 2001 already had a demo, EP and one full-length under their belt before releasing the best album of their career in 2004's, Armageddon, Mon Amour. The band's most prominent member, ex-Arch Enemy vocalist Johan Liiva is accompanied on this record by Mattias Ljung on lead and Max Thornell covering bass, drums and rhythm. Obviously the comparisons to Arch Enemy get thrown around a ton and not without merit as Liiva's signature growls are just as part of early Arch Enemy as the Amott brother's guitar style. While sharing some similarities, Hearse with this release, manage to evoke the glory days of melodic death metal while sprinkling in some thrash in the vein of later Entombed or The Crown for good measure.
The songs are all a chaotic concoction of blistering leads, groove oriented rhythms, heavy bass work (that doesn't get buried in the mix) and intense drumming. The numbers on the disc take that fast paced, adrenaline fueled death 'n' roll style and crank out memorable tune after tune. The dual guitar melodies are reminiscent of those lavish moments of melodic death metal's glorious past. The rhythm section has all the groove of thrash throwbacks as well, although one complaint is that often times, the groove doesn't sound heavy enough and is perhaps too clean in the mix. The bass gets ample attention which is always to be praised and the drums, while nothing extraordinary, provide excellent balance to the album.
Hearse doesn't just play it safe though, introducing lots of experimental detours into their sound through electronics, other instruments and vocals. Take for example the oddly placed organ in "Play Without Rules" that somehow seems to work amongst the songs composition. Other examples of experimentation are Liiva's almost goth-rock/doom sounding vocal lines on penultimate number "Determination" and their, of all people, cover of 80's British pop star Kim Wilde with "Cambodia". The latter song sounding completely invigorating as they give it the old death metal treatment while managing to keep the fun pop sensibilities of the original. Speaking of vocals, it's great to hear Liiva sounding as inspired and fresh as he had sounded in years. He really gives a tremendous effort on this release and while he may have those, "you either love them or hate them" vocals, one can't deny their uniqueness in the world of melodic death metal.
Throughout the record Hearse deliver catchy, no regrets, thrash inspired melodic death metal. The members are all gifted musicians and can be seen flexing their prowess in their technically blistering solos, the brilliance in them being that they never overshadow the arrangements and don't overstay their welcome. The record isn't without it's flaws though, like I said above, this album like many Swedish melodic death metal albums of the time comes off too polished in the mix and doesn't bring any real heaviness. Liiva's vocals might annoy some who find him a bit one dimensional and the drumming could use a bit extra emphasis as well. Overall though at the time this album was released many melodic death metal bands had already sown their seeds and would continue living in their own shadows--Hearse however brought a much needed kick in the ass and although they never quite invigorated the genre, Armageddon, Mon Amour remains a hidden gem in the waining years of the scene.