Wrong again. For years, I cringed at Arch Enemy because they defaced an excellent melodic-metal band with a grating death-metal vocalist. As much as I admire death metal, it seemed like putting a welder’s mask on Cate Blanchett.
As usual with metal, the matter simply required further consideration. The moment arose with the arrival of the latest Gigantour DVD, which has a couple of Arch Enemy performances on it.
Oh. Angela Gossow is a magnet. Distracted by Arch Enemy’s genre miscegenation, I never dragged my ass out to see them during the several years the Sweden-based quintet have scoured the USA with their current frontwoman, who replaced original throatguy Johan Liiva in 2001. So I didn’t know that not only is Gossow an unbelievably hot blond Valkyrie, but she commands the stage like a drillmistress, without a trace of vulnerability or girly seduction.
And it’s not as if the choice of Gossow represented trend-pandering. In 1996, founding guitarist Michael Amott spun out of the grindcore cornerstone Carcass, fer hobsake. Though that group’s instrumental direction had veered increasingly tuneward over the years, Amott wanted to stick with a growler when he put Arch Enemy together. That’s where Liiva came in, but Liiva’s delivery was on the mushy side; Gossow’s low rasp, contrariwise, combines the abrasiveness of a sandblaster with the percussive quality of an ingot stamper.
So as I’ve said in the past, we have to stop thinking of death-metal vocalists as singers. Modern metal is a much more abstract beast than its ‘70s and ‘80s forebears, and if a band makes the choice not to have a singerly singer, its frontperson has three main responsibilities: to connect with the crowd, to project an attitude, and to lock in with the drums. It’s instrumental music. Adversarial instrumental music. The arch enemy of bastards.
In a way, it’s easier to appreciate the players when a band omits a Dio or a Halford, and Arch Enemy is a good example. For all its harshness, Gossow’s voice has a certain transparency that allows you to hear the group’s instrumental structures, which are unfailingly ingenious. I put three Gossow-era Arch Enemy albums on random play, and here’s what I heard.
There were intriguingly mixed-up rhythms, as on “Saints and Sinners” and “Rise of the Tyrant.” There was speed metal of the “Painkiller” (Priest) and “Exorcist” (Friedkin) varieties, as on “Silent Wars” and “The Great Darkness.” There were grand, massive keyboards and bloody-eyed lyricism, as on “We Will Rise.” There were Maiden-style twin guitars, as on “Enemy Within” and “Burning Angel.”
And along with all this heavy-metal aggro, ax brothers Michael and Christopher Amott love their Elton John -- it’s undeniable after you’ve heard “Vultures” and “Intermezzo Liberte,” which scare up memories of EJ’s “Funeral for a Friend.” Plus, they enjoy sprinkling in lovely instrumental intros, and even occasional entirely voxless plaints such as “Marching on a Dead End Road,” “Anthem” and “Snow Bound.”
Except for a brief absence, the fearsomely intelligent Daniel Erlandsson has been Arch Enemy’s drummer since the beginning -- he knows how to keep the background moving, and though he can devote full fury to his double kick, he never bores you with it. Bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, onboard almost as long, has grown virtually indistinguishable from Erlandsson, which is genius of its own kind. Together with the Amotts’ precision orchaxtration and leaping lead work, they rock like hell.
So, Ms. Gossow, my future wish is to serve you. I’ll take my beating now.
ARCH ENEMY PLAY HOUSE OF BLUES SUNSET STRIP FRIDAY, MAY 3O, WITH DARK TRANQUILLITY, DIVINE HERESY AND FIREWIND. THE SHOW SEEMS TO BE SOLD OUT.