Class. Sheer, unadulterated, grade-A class. That is the overriding sense you’ll take away with you after your first exposure to Khaos Legions, the eighth studio album from death metal heavyweights Arch Enemy.
That, as I say, is after just one listen. Live with the album for a while, however, and you’ll find it’s the gift that keeps on giving. There’s a timeless, classic quality about Arch Enemy on KL that sits them squarely amongst the pantheon of the genre’s serious contenders, and will make you want to return to this album again and again. It possesses a songwriting class that means, no matter how harsh the singing of Angela Gossow becomes, the harmonies and melodies wrought out of the granite by the Amott brothers will have you drooling like one of Pavlov’s Dogs every time you hear them crank up the amps and go to work.
From the get go – the Khaos Overture – you get the sense that you’re in for something special here. After one song – Yesterday is Dead and Gone – you’ll sit back, happy that first impressions were right, ready to enjoy the goodness that follows. Midway through song three it’s all over. Bloodstained Cross is an utterly monstrous, knee-weakening classic of a song that quite possibly will not be bettered by any other band in this field for years to come. A titanium-shod anthem for the ages, even Gossow’s sandpapered howl cannot strip it of its sheer, adamantine beauty. Michael Amott – surely the best there is when it comes to modern heavy metal guitar playing – plays an absolute blinder here. The bottom line is that, though he can outshred the best of them, the bedrock of Amott’s axe attack is taste, and his lead playing on this track alone is worth the admission money. Knowing that slowing down is just as effective as speeding up, he lays it down here with a proficiency that’s only usually associated with the true Gods – by which I mean names like Schenker, Tipton and Moore – he’s that good.
But I digress. We’ve an album to dissect here, so, scalpels in hand, let’s do it. Under Black Flags We March is one of those stomping, martial epics that Judas Priest used to do so well before Kenny headed for the golf course, whilst No Gods, No Masters – despite the tip of the cap in the title to crust masters The Amebix is pure melodic death metal gold. Once again it’s the scintillating juxtaposition of Gossow’s uncompromising bellow with the shiny, glitteringly beautiful lead work of the brothers A that makes the whole such a goddamn irresistible sum of deliriously good parts. Bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and drummer Daniel Erlandsson are also due some plaudits here – their remorseless wall of rhythm provides the perfect platform for the bells and whistles going on everywhere else you look- and without such an effortlessly solid base the brilliance of messrs Amott (both Michael and Christopher) and Gossow would have significantly less impact.
City of the Dead follows, and, whilst most dodsmetal outfits would happily call it their own, the overall quality of Khaos Legions means that it kinda gets lost in the madness surrounding it. That doesn’t mean the album is running out of steam however. Through the Eyes of A Raven brings things back up to speed again, the song being the most unceremoniously heavy thing the band has brought to this set so far. It still has its moments melodically – but for the most part ...Ravens is all about the bludgeon.
Bludgeon is a theme further explored by the anti-vivisection anthem Cruelty Without Beauty, a bowel-loosening blast of filth that manages to meld Amott’s old muckers Carcass and prime time Slayer into one unholy morsel. As an utterly memorable exercise in brutality, CWB is probably the album’s most successful track.
Actually that last sentence is a lie. Cult of Chaos out-brutalises Cruelty... as it recreates the best bits of the first three Slayer albums and throws in some tasty Iberian-inspired lead work as well. Add some top-notch blasting from Erlandsson and a visceral, coruscating vocal performance from Ms G and you’ll have noted that the ante has been upped once more, just when you thought that no more upping was possible...and was I imagining it or do the band cheekily throw in a bit of Skid Row’s 18 and Life towards the end of the song? I keep hearing these guitar lines, doctor...
Thorns in My Flesh features yet more sumptuous playing from Amott as he veers between stately, classically-inspired phrasing and pure shred; the song itself is another of those rebel anthems that Gossow does so well, but again all her efforts would be like dust in the wind were it not for the smorgasbord of brilliance that surrounds her in this band. When Amott plays a lead line against Gossow’s leather lunged harangue a Miltonian ‘terrible beauty’ is created – and the results are utterly compelling.
There’s just time for another little instrumental – the bijou pleasurette that is Turn to Dust – and then we’re heading for home. Vengeance is Mine is pure, coruscating thrash metal heaviness, a place where the kick drum is king and the only good tremolo is a heavily used one – and then it’s time to sign off, in this case with the marvellous Malmsteen-meets-Maiden melodic mayhem of Secrets.
And there you have it. To these ears, Khaos Legions is one of the most important albums released in the last couple of years. Within its grooves you’ll hear a complete redefinition of melodic death metal, wherein the inspired playing of Michael Amott has taken the genre away from heavy-for-heavy’s sake and back to more ‘old fashioned’ ideas like feel, taste and good songwriting. Long may he and his ilk reign.