They say that familiarity breeds contempt so, by all accounts, we should be sick to the back teeth of Arch Enemy. The fact that we aren’t and, in fact, have been relishing- at least round these parts- their latest release is in no small part due to their continued dedication to the cause of metal and their enduring songwriting abilities. A new Arch Enemy record ought to be a cause for celebration so their latest album, “Khaos Legions”, could be a time to get out the bunting- could this be the point where Arch Enemy make the transition into the big league?
Um, err, no.
“Khaos Legions” sounds like an Arch Enemy record, it feels like an Arch Enemy record but some of it sounds like playing by numbers: First off, this is not an extreme metal album by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, it’s a punchy, straightforward and highly accessible piece. Of course it’s metal, but it has a damn sight more in common with, say, Iron Maiden, than oh, I don’t know, Wormrot. Although a number of the signature Arch Enemy traits are well in place: Angela Gossow‘s vocals remain an acquired but , for adherents, an unfettered delight, for example, there’s something not quite right about the whole endeavour. In becoming more accessible, it does seem that they have lost something more intangible but essential: the element of danger.
What’s missing isn’t so much a bunch of tunes- they are there, even if the production does its level best to hide them at times. Nor does it want for hard edged riffing- there’s plenty of that too. What IS missing, however, is any sense of visceral thrill, of edgy excitement. There is, sadly, an absence of any kind of real drama whatsoever.
‘Under Black Flags We March’ is a good example of what I’m talking about. It’s a solid. fist-pumping, anthemic metal track but its structure and lyrical content walk a very fine line between self-regard and self parody. On ‘No Gods No Masters‘, again a track laden with metal muscle and brawn, it’s a bit rich to have a song dedicated to individualism and standing out from the crowd wrapped in a musical blanket that sounds like a million other songs I’ve heard.
“Khaos Legions” is not bad but it’s not the substantive leap that you might have hoped for. In parts, it’s a decent heavy metal record but it is, let’s whisper it, a little bit, well- dull, really. What we really wanted from Arch Enemy was an album to make the hairs on the back of our necks stand up. On “Khaos Legions”, what we get is more bluff and bluster than a pirate ship but, regrettably, none of the buried treasure.