Album Review: Arch Enemy—Will to Power

A personal anecdote that perfectly conveys how I feel about this album:

When I was a younger man, playing in a ragtag metal band with my friends and trying to make a name for ourselves, we had pretty shit equipment. It wasn’t really our fault, we bought the best stuff we could afford—it’s just that what we could afford happened to be generic instruments and worn down, beat up, no-name amps that didn’t sound very good—and the fact that we had them turned up as loud as they could go to compete with the drums did us no favors.

But then there was Sacred Playground.

Sacred Playground was different. They were older guys (probably early to mid 30s, which, when you’re in your late teens to early 20s is practically ancient) with decent jobs, making actual money—as opposed to the rest of us, making minimum wage in our retail and fast food jobs. Hence, they had real equipment. Carvin and Jackson guitars, name brand amps, quality cymbals—they looked like they were sponsored by Guitar Center. And when they played a gig with the rest of us local bands, you could hear the difference. They sounded like a “real” band. The kind of band you might find playing shows on the Sunset Strip instead of our little desert hellhole.

The thing was…they still weren’t that great. Sure, they had the sound, but the songs weren’t very good. Their riffs were forgettable, their song titles cheesy and lyrics corny. Despite the money they had poured into their gear, they were no more respected (probably even less so) than the 19 year olds who eternally reeked of Taco Bell and poured their hearts into their crappy instruments.

Now, it’s not entirely fair (or accurate) to compare Arch Enemy as a whole to Sacred Playground. AE has been around for years, and is made up of stellar musicians that came from top-notch bands. I’ve listened to some of their older stuff, and they definitely know how to make good music. In regard to their latest, Will to Power (released Sept. 2017), however…it’s Sacred Playground all over again.

The album starts off promising, with instrumental intro Set Flame to the Night leading into the blistering second track, The Race. From there, though, they gradually lose steam, the only exception being The Eagle Flies Alone, which, despite my instant hatred of songs about animals, has some nice riffs.

The first time I put the album on, it was as background music as I was doing other stuff. In that context, it sounded great—distorted guitars, double bass drumming, growly vocals, great production value…it had all the elements that should make it good—but on repeat listens, when I was actually paying attention, it didn’t take long for the songs to sound generic and uninspired. And while I have nothing against positivity in metal (I would point to Hatebreed as a band that can make optimism sound less corny), Alissa White-Gluz’s lyrics also ring stale and contrived, despite having a decent voice.

As if to drive all this home, AE closes the album with a cover of British punk legends GBH classic track City Baby Attacked By Rats. As expected, Arch Enemy’s cover sounds far too slick, lacking any of the anger or attitude of the original. For comparison, as soon as Will to Power concluded I immediately put on the original GBH version of City Baby. It reinforced what Sacred Playground found out the hard way: all the sweet gear in the world doesn’t mean much if you can’t match the intensity of some sweaty, smelly punks banging away on shitty instruments.

Bottom line: Good for background music and not much else. 

Grade: C–

Listen to the album here:

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