Review Summary: "Time stands still as the immortals keep on breeding"
Burning Bridges is a death metal album for classic rock fans. Arch Enemy's first two records - Black Earth and Stigmata - were excellent forays into ravenous melodic death metal, defined by their dichotomy of unbridled heaviness and classic metal harmonies. Here, Arch Enemy poached the best elements of those records to synthesize their most concise and memorable collection of songs to date, crafting what is the greatest album in their discography.
Arguably their most "controlled" display of songwriting, Burning Bridges ditches the relentless brutality of their death metal roots, accentuating the "melodic" in melodic death metal. Though some could easily be disappointed by the lack of muscle, Amott and Co. more than make up for its absence in finesse; the balance between heaviness and harmony on Burning Bridges is absolutely superb. Tracks like "Pilgrim Man" and Angelclaw" are prime examples, where the Amott brothers juxtapose crunchy thrash riffs against dual-guitar harmonies that would make Iron Maiden envious. There is undoubtedly still enough ferocity to be had however; opener and fan favorite "The Immortal" is rife with pulverizing Gothenburg-styled guitars and Daniel Erlandsson's seismic drumming, while the crawling title track crushes you under the weight of slow-burning guitars and Johan Liiva's throaty rasp.
The former vocalist is easily the most divisive aspect of Burning Bridges; many fans of Arch Enemy's older output love his unique shout, while Angela-worshipers see him as the weaker predecessor to her demonic rasp. However, a cursory listen to the album makes it apparent that no matter which camp you reside in, Liiva was unquestionably the right
vocalist here. Improving leaps and bounds from the monotone bark of Black Earth and Stigmata, Liiva's delivery on Burning Bridges is the perfect counterpoint to the album's stripped down, thrash-y musical stance. His rapid fire, syncopated lines on "Dead Inside" are infectious, and "Seed of Hate" features haunting whispers and wounded shouts that practically drip with passion. After such an impressive improvement, it's difficult not to wonder what truly drove the band to burn their bridges with Liiva after the release of this album.
It should go without saying the highlight of this album is the guitar-work. The chemistry between the Amott brothers has never been better than it is on Burning Bridges. Rooted in metal's beginnings, the rhythm work is inspired by the galloping nature of the NWOBHM and the speed of thrash, rarely relying on death metal's tremolo rampages. As a self-professed lover of classic rock and metal, Michael's playing satisfies not only guitar shredders, but fans who enjoy more thoughtful compositions. The trade-off solo in "The Immortal" is spectacular, driving in one memorable phrase after another, while "Demonic Science" closes with blazing split-harmony guitars and a captivating melody. The often underrated and appreciated Chris also proves to be quite the guitar hero, and his tasteful licks in tracks like "Pilgrim Man" and "Silverwing" are just as powerful as his older brothers.
Burning Bridges has all the makings of not just a classic melodic death metal record, but a classic metal record in general: godly musicianship, memorable vocals, and above of all, extremely well-written songs. For those of you prejudiced against listening to this album because of Liiva, you're doing yourself a disservice. This is an ESSENTIAL album in the Arch Enemy canon. For those who have already heard it... well, you know what I'm talking about.