Back in 2014, Arch Enemy caught a fair amount of flack for their decision to have Angela Gossow, widely credited for helping the band reach new heights after the departure of original vocalist Johan Liiva, step back from vocal duties and her subsequent replacement with Alissa White-Gluz (ex-The Agonist). The band followed such a monumental announcement with the statement of intent that was War Eternal; three years later the band are returning with its follow-up Will to Power, second album with a new vocalist and the first to feature new guitarist Jeff Loomis (ex-Nevermore) who takes over from Nick Cordle.
After the seemingly compulsory instrumental intro ‘Set Flame to the Night’, we’re treated to the opening salvo of ‘The Race’, perhaps the most atypical Arch Enemy track in a long time, having more in common with At The Gates’ vitriolic assault of Slaughter of the Soul than the more mid-paced plodding fare Arch Enemy are usually known for. Subverting expectations in this way is a bold move and one that pays off – sadly, it’s one of only two truly bold moves Amott and co. make for the entire album.
The second of these moments comes in the middle of the album with ‘Reason to Believe’ which seems the band slow things down to something more akin to a power ballad, boasting the first time ever clean singing has been used on an Arch Enemy record, despite Michael Amott once boasting that the band would absolutely never do what they just did. A controversial move to be certain, but one that again definitely works for the band; Alissa’s cleans have come a fair way since her time in The Agonist and the effect is that of a siren luring sailors in, both vulnerable and more confident in their ability. There is, however, one glaring issue with the song, and it’s the chorus. The vocals shift abruptly from cleanly sung verse to growled chorus, a shift that while often used the opposite way, robs the song of absolutely any emotional heft whatsoever. It’s a bizarre, jarring shift made all the more odd by the almost power-metal esque wail of “yeah” and the introduction of a sung chorus to the end that seems to hint at what could have been.
This is a glaring issue for Will to Power as a whole – there are occasional flashes of brilliance; Jeff Loomis’ solos are fantastic and help prop the album up through their sheer power alone, and the vocal phrasing in the opening of ‘Blood in the Water’, along with the galloping riff is goose-bump inducing, the syncopated vocal rhythm lending serious heft, and the first mini-solo from Loomis is predictably excellent. Amott has a clear knack for writing huge hooks and melodies, and ‘Blood in the Water’ also is a highlight for this – it packs a massive hook and a passage that just begs to be yelled back raucously when the band inevitably take it to the stages. The other glaring issue are the lyrics which sound occasionally juvenile, as if written in an attempt to seem edgy – a thin veneer of “individualism” and “standing up to the The Man” – those of ‘The Eagle Flies Alone’ being the most egregious example of this, sounding more like an attempt to appeal to edgy teenagers than anything truly sincere.
On the whole Will to Power sounds generally uninspiring; there’s very little here Arch Enemy haven’t done before, and done better, a notable offender being the chorus pf ‘First Day in Hell’ having near-identical phrasing to ‘Instinct’ off 2003’s Anthems of Rebellion. It’s another album that diehard fans will likely love, and Amott and co are nothing if not consistent in delivering what’s expected, but they’re clearly capable of so much more. Will to Power reeks of an album resting on its laurels, just coasting along without any ambition of pushing the envelope musically. It's a real shame because there are some very promising elements the band spectacularly fail to capitalise on, and the album sadly ends up falling flat.
Highlights: The Race, Blood in the Water