Arch Enemy - Black Earth review
01. Bury Me An Angel
02. Dark Insanity
05. Cosmic Retribution
07. Transmigration Macabre
08. Time Capsule
09. Fields Of Desolation
10. Losing Faith [2002 re-release bonus]
11. The Ides Of March [Iron Maiden cover] [2002 re-release bonus]
12. Aces High [Iron Maiden cover] [2002 re-release bonus]
Let's go back in time a little, to the year of 1988, when a talented quintet by the name of Carnage was formed in the Swedish underground. In a short period of time they released an EP, two demos and a full length, "Dark Recollections," which would forever mark their country's scene. For many it was the genesis of the Gothenburg Death/Thrash blend, a start shamefully forgotten by many (a condition that the short duration of the band helped serving, unfortunately). When Carnage disbanded the future was uncertain for the then not so known personalities such as Kärki, Blomqvist, Estby and Amott. If the first four soon went to concentrate on a new colossus, Dismember, it took the last a bit more time to get back in a new similar band. In 1995, after he left Carcass and already after At The Gates' breakthrough, he and his brother went out to form Arch Enemy. As "Black Earth" proves, they were finally set to create the project that would make them the leaders they were destined to be in this style.
Here we have a debut that not only reflects the maturity the members' previous experiences gave them, but also contributes to synthesize clearly the influences this new wave of Swedish Metal was trying to put together. Direct songs with generally mid-paced heavy Thrash riffs, Death Metal growls and a very intense melodic approach, reminiscent of the leads immortalized by bands like Iron Maiden - all this Arch Enemy knew how to mix for "Black Earth." While bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity struggled to create more experimental and intricate albums, Arch Enemy tried to present simpler structures, but with a more captivating and fresh sound; the hooks and catchy chorus are a constant.
With this I don't intend to say that "Black Earth" is a one dimensional or repetitive album, far from that. It may be pretty straight forward and easy to digest, but there's more to it then what you might think, as with most of Arch Enemy's records that followed. To prove it there's "Cosmic Retribution," which features all the typical characteristics but also a very interesting mid section where electric and acoustic guitar solos jump in, one after another; "Demonality" surprises with its Doom influenced riffs, a small song that seems to work as an interlude; and then there's also an atmospheric Metallica-like intro to the final song, "Fields Of Desolation," a seemingly average track clocking over 5 minutes that hides the best solo of the album to the very end of it.
Years have passed and the band has suffered some changes in the meantime, most notably the departure of Johan Liiva, and ended up releasing more prominent and interesting albums, "Wages Of Sin," for example, was a step forward and even technically it's a more developed album. Clearly there has been evolution in Arch Enemy's career, but "Black Earth" was quite a strong statement at the time it was released and it has aged well. Though personally I still consider it inferior to "Dark Recollections" and "Lunar Strain," it will hold its place in the Melodic Death Metal scene, if not for its high quality then for being the debut of a great band. For that, it is a recommended listening, along with the ones I mentioned previously. 8 out of 10.
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