If your lacrosse team just beat your bitter rivals from across town, you should listen to Will to Power on the bus ride home. If your lacrosse team has had a tough season and you’re about to take the field against your bitter rivals from across town, you should listen to Will to Power while you warm up. If you’ve never actually held a lacrosse stick, but you fantasize about what it would be like to play in an intense lacrosse game against bitter rivals from across town, you should listen to Will to Power on headphones in your bedroom while ever more epic swings of fortune play out in your head. If you don’t even like sports, but your social life currently hangs in the balance between being tragically grounded and getting a B on tomorrow’s geometry test, you should listen to Will to Power while you try to discern among complementary angles, consecutive angles, corresponding angles and congruent angles. If you don’t even have a social life, but your grade on Monday’s Spanish exam spells the difference between having your gaming privileges revoked and blowing the shit out of some heavily armed alien bastards, you’d better start conjugating like a motherfucker. And listen to Will to Power. Because Arch Enemy’s new album is meant to pump you up, remind you that you’re worth something, goddammit, and propel you toward acts of devastating awesomeness that will prove your worth to all the meany-pantsed naysayers who aren’t as special as they think they are, you know, on the inside.
Sorry. That’s all pretty damned cynical. I’m sure there are lots of people who listen to metal to get pumped up, who use heavy music to counterbalance the shitty way they’re treated on a daily basis. Being a kid is tough, and sometimes growing up through that hormone hurricane requires some auditory self-medication. When the quiet types get picked on by alpha asshats, allowing metal to hold those explosive emotions can be the safest and healthiest way to weather that storm. Anyone under twenty years old has my explicit blessing to jam Will to Power with impunity. Anyone who’s been alive longer, however, should probably grow the fuck up, accept that the world sucks cosmic gutter anus, buy a few Gnaw Their Tongues records and quit bitching.
Truthfully, the first couple of songs aren’t all that bad. Intro air-fister “Set Flame to the Night” is a pretty righteous eighty seconds, and “The Race” bludgeons in all the best ways. Riffs are understated, the soloing is edgy and dark and newish vocalist Alissa White-Gluz growls brutally throughout. “Blood in the Water” ain’t terrible either, though the bottom-feeding lyrics really shine through the stripped back instrumentation. The worst that can be said of the song is how easily it could be mistaken for a Dethklok joint.
What comes next, though, is just inexcusable for a group of dudes who were born before 1975. Sure, the lyrics extol the virtues of persevering through adversity to become the proudest you you’ve ever been, but that wouldn’t grate nearly so much if the guitar work weren’t so crystal-mountain-scaling, so glittery-Pegasus-riding, so braided-water-spout-summoning in its execution. The worst offenders are “The Eagle Flies Alone” and “Reason to Believe,” but most of the album mucks about in second-person empowerment anthems. It’s like power metal got into melodic death metal’s wardrobe, and now it’s hard to tell who we’re really looking at.
Does it rock? Sure. It’s riffy and energized, full of strong performances that were recorded well and mixed perfectly. Songs develop their own distinct personalities, so the album never feels too samey even with a 52-minute runtime. This is a band of professionals, after all. They’ve been playing the melodic metal game for some time, and time-honed proficiency leads to a certain quality. Anyone who got excited about last year’s In Flames record, Battles, should feel similarly stoked about new Arch Enemy. But anyone fitting that description who can legally buy alcohol should probably not be too eager to publicize their latest musical crush.