Saturday, 26 September 2009

CD Review: Black Earth, by Arch Enemy (1996)

Swedish melodic death metal band Arch Enemy's debut effort is an impressive mix of the inspired and the naive. While the CD does not contain that one perfect track, there is a uniform quality throughout that is rare for a first album, and almost every song has strong elements.

As a collection of metal songs, Black Earth is not easily accessible -- it takes repeated listenings to gain an appreciation of the complex content. None of the songs are remotely simple, but once they give up their secrets, the package is enjoyable.

Black Earth was apparently all but a solo project by Michael Amott, and he had enough of a vision to package his songwriting and instrument playing into a band framework, allowing him to start building an institution.

And the best things about Black Earth are related to the classical-inspired guitar playing of Michael and Christopher Amott. Almost every track features snippets of brilliance on the guitar, as well as surprisingly complex arrangements and strong melodies. That almost every track also includes featureless uninspired and repetitive passages is proof that this is a debut effort.

Opener Bury Me an Angel and original CD closer Fields of Desolation are the stand-out tracks. Bury Me an Angel unapologetically shines the spotlight on Arch Enemy with a complicated guitar solo introduction that gives way to a classical-fused melody hooked to a massive, powerful and somewhat frantic foundation, and doesn't hesitate to introduce a shocking tempo change that works remarkably well. Confident stuff, for a first song on a first CD.

Fields of Desolation has a thunderous groove layered with a simple but haunting melody that builds to a magnificent solo that is criminally faded out, a summary confirmation of the incredible talent and immaturity simultaneously on display.

The early Arch Enemy sound is undoubtedly held back by Johan Liiva's vocals. His delivery is both monotone and monosyllabic, and more angry punk than metal. There are striking parallels with Iron Maiden's sound not quite fitting Paul Di'Anno's style.

Speaking of Maiden, the 2007 re-issue of Black Earth included covers of The Ides of March and Aces High. Both are serviceable, but neither cover will change the rotation of the earth, and the Arch Enemy version of Ides is particularly lacking an edge to the crucial drum sound.

Black Earth proudly announces the arrival of an influential new band on the metal landscape, one that starts off strong and would only get better.


Michael Amott - Guitars
Johan Liiva - Bass / Vocals
Christopher Amott - Guitars
Daniel Erlandsson - Drums

Songlist (Ratings out of 10):

1. Bury Me An Angel - 8
2. Dark Insanity - 7
3. Eureka - 7
4. Idolatress -7
5. Cosmic Retribution - 8
6. Demoniality - n/a (short instrumental)
7. Transmigration Macabre - 7
8. Time Capsule - n/a (short instrumental)
9. Fields of Desolation - 9
10. Losing Faith - 7
11. The Ides of March - 7
12. Aces High -8

Average: 7.50

Produced by Fredrik Nordstrom with Michael Amott.
Engineered by Frederik Nordstrom.
Mixed by Frederik Nordstrom and Michael Amott.

Black Earth at the Ace Black Store.
The Ace Black Blog CD Review No. 39.

All Ace Black Blog CD Reviews are here.

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