So, the main sources of dissatisfaction amongst keyboard warriors, regarding the latest album from melodeath champions Arch Enemy, seems to be a couple of things. One, ex-Nevermore guitar legend Jeff Loomis is under-used as a songwriter on this, his first album with the band, and two, Alissa White-Gluz uses clean vocals for the first time on an Arch Enemy album. Not only clean vocals, but clean vocals on a power ballad! Well, not really an actual Bon Jovi type lighters-in-the-air moment, but as close to a power ballad as you’ll hear from Arch Enemy.
The track in question, ‘Reason To Believe’, actually works really well. The soft guitar intro serves as a background for Alissa to deliver her gentle, clean vocals, but this is Alissa White-Gluz, so you know the growls won’t be far behind. Mainly, it is clean vocals though, and the song is superb. The bridge leading to the guttural growls is massive and, dare I say, really catchy? During the growls, her clean vocals are used to provide backing vocals (also a feature on ‘Blood In The Water’), and the risk taken certainly pays off. There will, of course, be many for whom the very thought of a power ballad will have them running for the hills, but go with the flow and take the blinders off. As for Loomis being under-used? Well yes, one of the most respected guitarists in Metal is under-used, and only contributes solos to the album, but what fucking solos they are! His fast, aggressive solo on ‘The World Is Yours’ might be fleeting, but it’s a stunning example of how accomplished a guitarist Loomis is. Once he has fully bedded in with the band, I would be surprised if his songwriting talents aren’t fully utilised, but, we need to remember that his fellow guitarist in Arch Enemy, Michael Amott, is hardly lacking in the fretwork department either.
After the short intro of ‘Set Flame To The Night’, we’re off the mark with ‘The Race’, which chops and changes between full throttle speed and stomping grooves. The pairing of drummer Daniel Erlandsson and bassist Sharlee D’Angelo take advantage of all the fuss over other band members by kicking in the back door and delivering performances that crush. They continue this into the aforementioned ‘Blood In The Water’, which has an old school Judas Priest vibe to it. Musically, the twin chugging guitars evoke memories of Tipton and Downing rocking back and forth in unison. It’s amazing to think how much of an influence the Metal Gods still are today. Alissa’s growls get stronger on each outing, and she seems to be growing in stature with each album. Her songwriting skills are also worth noting, especially on the deeply personal ‘First Day In Hell’, which deals with the horror that her grandparents endured growing up during the holocaust. It’s dark, daunting, and highly emotional. The instrumental outro track ‘Saturnine’ that follows plays a major role in keeping the intensity flowing. It’s only a minute long, but it certainly plays its part thanks to the keyboard work from special guest, Jens Johansson. ‘Will To Power’ features many other standout moments, ‘Dreams Of Retribution’, ‘The World Is Yours’ (sounds like a Bond movie, no? Imagine Arch Enemy spewing out of the speakers as Bond makes his appearance… I’d buy that for a dollar!), the orchestral arrangements on the epic ‘A Fight I Must Win’, and a snot filled cover of GBH’s ‘City Baby Attacked By Rats’ (deluxe edition only) are all memorable. Those bemoaning the use of clean vocals are missing the point. It’s only one song, and bands need to evolve. Where’s the challenge in maintaining the status quo? Either way you look at it, ‘Will To Power’ is a strong album by anyone’s standards.
Available now through Century Media.
Review: Dave Stott