ARCH ENEMY, Doomsday Machine (2005, Century Media)
A dusty, aged-looking skull, missing a tooth and looking quite tough, haloed by a biomechanical representation of Arch Enemy’s circle-with-four-protrusions symbol, the whole assemblage floating over the most generic industrial-looking backdrop you can imagine. I interviewed Mike Amott when Stigmata came out, and he vaguely alluded to a secret meaning behind the symbol, a meaning which he vowed to never disclose. I found that fairly annoying, and have never made any further effort to learn if he kept that promise. I always assumed it had something to do with the (then) four members of the band, but of course after Johan Liiva left, the band became a five piece. If there is a meaning to it, it’s almost surely far less clever than Amott imagined, which brings us back to this skull. Is this halo/collar supposed to be the doomsday machine? If so, can it really be considered as such if you need to clamp it on to every person you want to doom? This is not how mad science works. As always with this sort of Photoshop art, the various elements don’t quite look like they inhabit the same space, but the skull itself if pleasingly big and undeniably the focus of the cover.
I love the first couple Arch Enemy discs to death. They’re exactly the blend of Carcass-style melody and Carnage-style aggression that we all wanted from Mike Ammot, who was mostly just dicking around in Spiritual Beggars at the time. (No slam on Spiritual Beggars, though — as stoner/psych metal goes, they’re about as good as it gets.) But even by the third album, the melody/brutality balance was falling out of whack. When Liiva left and Angela Gossow joined, it felt like the band decided to leverage the appeal of their attractive singer to create the most marketable death metal band possible. It’s not that their albums immediately got bad – they didn’t. But, while Black Earth and Stigmata felt like the heavy albums Ammot really wanted to make, the Gossow albums, pretty much all of them, feel like the heavy albums Ammot is obligated to make. His death metal day job. The confrontational spirit of the earlier albums, a spirit pretty much essential to good death metal, more or less vanished, and the rough edges were mercilessly sanded down. All of the Gossow albums would be better with a melodic singer. They’re no more death metal than, say, Nevermore. In fact, death vocals be damned, on average there’s considerably less aggression on display in these latter-day Arch Enemy albums than in all but the weakest Nevermore discs. So while Doomsday Machine has more than its fair share of killer riffs (the ending of the title track is pretty awesome), and even some very well assembled songs, the vibe is just somehow off. This album just doesn’t rile me up the way Black Earth does, to this day, and Gossow’s over-effected and bland, if serviceable, vocals (say what you will about Liiva, he has an unmistakable voice) utterly fail to sell the evil. The super slick production doesn’t help either. Daniel Erlandsson (always the lesser Erlandsson), can blast in time, sure, but the mix utterly tames these supposedly furious beats. Is it painful to listen to Doomsday Machine? Not at all. Just pointless.
— Friar Johnsen