Thursday, 27 March 2014

Amaranthe Self-Titled Album Review

OK, this is going to be a weird one to describe, so bear with me for a second, I want to describe these guys before I get into anything.

Amaranthe are a band from Sweden who play a combination of metalcore, melodic death metal, power metal and pop music (for ease of remembering, I will now refer to it as melodic power pop core...which is just my personal nickname for their sound, but I like that term so much that I want to use it!), with three different vocalists providing a combination of strong female vocals, surprisingly poppy male vocals and death growls. I suppose you could TECHNICALLY say that it's a combination of power metal and trancecore, but I'm honestly not familiar enough with trancecore to say how accurate that description would be.

OK, we now return to your regularly scheduled brand of waffling pretending to be an introduction to this review.


So, I first heard of Amaranthe back in 2012, not far from when Kamelot were about to release their first album with Tommy Karevik on vocals, Silverthorn (which is also how I got introduced to The Agonist, who you may remember me talking about from my double review of "War Eternal" and "Disconnect Me"). Being very curious and having more money than I did common sense (I was a student!), I ordered this album (then their only album) having only heard maybe one or two tracks from it first.

...Wow, I've ran out of things to say to delay actually doing the review already. That must be a new record!

So, the album cover is...I hesitate to say that it's bad, but I can't say it's brilliant either. I guess you could argue that it gives you what you want to see, as it includes an image of the band (at the time: the guy doing death growling on the first two albums has now sadly departed the band, albeit on friendly terms), but it feels like it's lacking creativity.

As a side note, this is not a new trend among the band's album covers. Here is the cover for their second (and most recent) album, The Nexus.

Spotting a slight trend? I wish I had mad photoshop skills, as I have a feeling I can guess what their next album cover will look like just from a glance at the colour wheel...

Anyway, the band has a sound that, as I've mentioned before, is rather weird to describe. Some metal elitists like to say they're basically Britney Spears mixed with metal, which...actually, that's not as dumb as I first thought it was (although I highly doubt that Britney Spears has ever sung anything by Iron Maiden...on the off chance that she has and it's been recorded, please do not link me to it!). This is certainly a lot more pop sounding than you tend to expect from anything associated with metal, although I think that the band keep themselves anchored enough in metal that it's hard to say quite where they fall in terms of the line between metal and pop. As such, your viewpoint on this album WILL vary quite drastically, depending on your thoughts on pop music and metal music. I would say that, if you're a metal fan who doesn't hate modern pop music or a pop music fan who wants to get into metal, you'll find a lot of like about this. If you don't like one of the genres much, then this is definitely something to pass on. If you like (or can appreciate) both, though? Well, prepare to meet what might potentially be your new favourite band!

The album is very much made up of songs that could get on the radio without too much difficulty: the longest song on the album is a bit under five minutes long and, to the best of my recollection, there aren't any themes on the album that are likely to prevent airplay. In fact, even with the deluxe version of the album that I have, the album barely crosses the 50 minute mark, even with 14 songs. So, pop radio DJs out there who are reading this (although, really, why are you reading a blog about metal music if you're a pop music DJ? It just seems like an odd thing to read...) and want to throw something unexpected into your next show, try picking something from this album (or the next one) and see what happens! I'm pretty sure that this will go down very well!

The songs, for the most part, are fairly conventionally written (which makes sense, considering their sound is not too far removed from pop music mixed with metal), with very few surprises in the songwriting department. This does mean that the songwriting will start to feel a bit predictable if you are used to more technical songwriting. However, considering their sound, I think it's fair to give them a pass on this one, as I don't see the band's typical sound being one that would suit an epic track of more than six minutes (heck, the longest song on this album, "Directors Cut", arguably is pushing to the edge of where their songs can go before getting dull and it's nearly five minutes long!). Still, this is a factor that will put off some people, so I do have to point it out.

I wouldn't say that their sound lacks variety, though: within the boundaries of their sound, they come up with a lot of a surprisingly large range of songs, ranging from nearly entering melodic death metal territory (the verses to "Call Out My Name" wouldn't be too far out of place if they cropped up in a melodic death metal song, although the rest of the song is what I am going to nickname "speed pop music": basically, pop music played really quickly!) to a very nice, fairly slow paced ballad with barely any harsh vocals in it (although they do crop up for a little bit of the song in question, "Amaranthine"). It's this variety (along with the fact that all three vocalists are very strong singers in their own right) that makes this such a captivating listen. The fact that just about every song on this album will get stuck in your head if you let it is also something that will win over pop fans. Metal fans might be a bit more picky about the songs, but I think they're well written enough that most metal fans (providing they don't flame it purely because it has any influence from pop music) will have little to complain about with the songs.

The whole album is also very well performed, but one performance that I feel I must highlight is that of drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen. Put simply, this guy is brilliant behind the drum kit, although the fact that the guys has played (admittedly, only live) for Soilwork should be enough for most metal fans to get an idea of what the guy is capable of. For those who don't know who Soilwork are, let's just say that, across this album, he practically gives a masterclass in playing the drums that will have most drummers with their jaws dropping through the floor. Yet I wouldn't say there is any real point when his drumming becomes intrusive to the music, although he does reach for the double bass drumming probably a bit more than most pop fans will be comfortable with. Basically, the guy's a brilliant metal drummer, but he can dial it back when the song calls for it, which is a pretty good ability to have!

The production of this album is pretty solid, although I still think that the bass is lacking some prominence in the mix. The mastering is pretty much fine, if maybe a tiny bit louder than it might want to be overall. No major complaints on the production front, I have to say!

So, how does the album as a whole weight up? Well, every song is worth a listen to, it's well performed, has a rather unique sound, has a lot of variety to it and can appeal to quite a large audience. You know what? While I think calling it a classic would be pushing the truth a bit, I can find very little to complain about with it. I suppose my big worry is that it might not have the best shelf life, as it can become one of those albums which you really like, but don't play a lot due to how you keep finding other stuff that interests you longer (as has happened with me). However, considering how the album sounds as a whole and the fact I have no real complaints to make about it, I think I need to give it a high rating.

Final Rating: 9 Out Of 10

It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but, if you can enjoy modern pop music and metal music in general, you'll likely find a huge amount to enjoy here. Highly recommended!

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