The big story surrounding Arch Enemy's ninth studio album is that the band has done the impossible. They replaced their lead singer calmly, quietly, and without anybody knowing about it until it was already done—and somehow didn't miss a beat in the process. It's hard enough to replace a singer just once, but Arch Enemy has done it twice, and while there are still some people bellyaching over the loss of original vocalist Johan Liiva, it's safe to say Angela Gossow left a much bigger footprint on the band, and on metal in the new millennium. With her at the mic, Arch Enemy were one of the bands responsible for popularizing so-called "melodic death metal," if not in the mainstream, at least outside of the dank sub-basements of the underground. Plus, she reminded a new generation of female headbangers that you didn't need to be an opera singer, a goth chick, or a bassist to find a place in extreme metal.
But all that's old news, because Angela's out (but still managing the band), and Alissa White-Gluz (of the Canadian band The Agonist) is in. Along with recent addition Nick Cordle on guitar (from Arsis, another band whose name you see on Blabbermouth but probably never actually heard), Arch Enemy are moving full steam ahead on War Eternal.
Al the expected Arch Enemy ingredients are present and accounted for, starting with the portentous instrumental that opens the disc, complete with Latin, faux-classical title. Once that's over with, the band launches into the real music, and right off, they seem to be playing with more fire and aggression than we've heard recently. That sounds like a slam at previous albums, and I don't mean it to be—I personally thought 2011's Khaos Legions was fantastic. But songs like "Never Forgive, Never Forget," "As the Pages Burn" and "Down To Nothing" just rage with a speed and ferocity that feels renewed. Having said that, the band doesn't stray from its original recipe that much. You still have trademark Arch Enemy anthems like "Stolen Life" and the title track, and more mid-paced offerings like "You Will Know My Name" and "Time Is Black," and band founder Michael Amott's guitar madness is still very much classic metal sent through a C-tuned death-metal meat grinder. Some people have gotten bored with the formula, but if you're a fan, Arch Enemy has done nothing here to tarnish their legacy. But it's that intangible something, that jolt of energy that comes from new players in the band, that helps War Eternal pack that extra punch. Even on tracks like "Time Is Black" and "Avalanche," with their prominent keyboard melodies (tastefully done, not overbearing or cheesy), there's just a sense of urgency that's cranked up a notch from the past couple releases.
And that new singer, how does she fare? People like to joke about how hard it is to tell one death-metal singer from the next, but Alissa White-Gluz has a deeper, more powerful voice than Angela Gossow. She actually reminds me of Children of Bodom's Alexi Laiho in more than a few places, with a splash of Dez Fafara from DevilDriver. It's a different sound compared to Angela's thickly-accented snake-hiss, and it really adds to the heightened sense of aggression found on War Eternal.
PITRIFF RATING - 87/100 – Losing such a recognizable face and voice could have proved disastrous for a prominent band (relatively speaking). Indeed, Michael Amott admits pondering whether the band should even continue. Luckily, he chose to persevere, and I'm happy to report that War Eternal is another fine addition to the Arch Enemy catalog. No real surprises beyond the personnel shake-up; just another serving of vicious, well-crafted melodic death metal, from one of the pillars of the genre.