Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Review: Amaranthe, "Manifest"

I always imagine what the conversation with friends might have been like when Amaranthe decided to get together.

Friend: So are you guys going to be a pop act, a prog metal outfit or a melodic death metal band?

Amaranthe: Yes.

The band has made a decade-long career out of mixing things that shouldn’t go together, and their sixth album, Manifest, continues the tradition. The vocal trio of Elize Ryd, Nils Molin and Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson all give the music a different perspective. Ryd brings the pop hooks and looks, Molin delivers the power and mystery, and Wilhelmsson hammers it home with his death-style growls. Guitarist and primary composer Olof Morck plays them all masterfully in an irresistible genre-blending brand of metal.

In most cases, if you traded Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson’s growls for rapped vocals and dropped the heavy guitars, Amaranthe’s songs could likely be pop hits (though not nearly as interesting as what the band does). When you put them all together, it’s a strange, wonderful and occasionally cheesy mix that leaves you wondering whether you should be gyrating beneath a disco ball or banging your head and throwing horns in the pit.

Manifest opens with a pretty straight metal track in “Fearless.” The guitar and drums hit hard, and the chorus soars. Despite the dance-influenced break for Ryd toward the end of the song and the synths in the background, it wouldn’t be out of place on a power metal release. That’s really one of the few mostly straight-forward metal songs on the album.

“Make it Better” opens up with a slab guitar riff from Morck, but that immediately drops out as Ryd delivers a pop-influenced verse. Wilhelmsson punctuates the end of that verse as the song cranks back up for the chorus, which is incredibly catchy, as it almost always is with Amaranthe. That gets ramped up even more on “Scream My Name,” which blends heavy synth with heavy guitars and finds Ryd delivering a more rock-style vocal. Then comes in a big pop-influenced chorus hook, again given an exclamation point by a Wilhelmsson scream. This is a perfect example of what I was talking about when I said a few changes could make one of their songs a pop hit. That same blend is highlighted throughout Manifest on songs like “Adrenaline” and “Die and Wake Up,” all solid and all quite memorable. It’s really when the band is at its best.

Whether intentional or not at the time they were written, Amaranthe hit on some of the big themes of 2020 in several tracks on Manifest. Depending on how you look at it, the first single released from the album was either poor or perfect timing. Lyrically, “Viral” revolves around electronic addiction and the way that people sometimes hide their pain behind a screen. Of course, 2020 brought a different meaning to the song, one that they also play up in the video as all of the members of the band show their frustration with the lockdown and their inability to play live music. It was also a good choice for a first single from the record, since it showcases pretty much everything that Amaranthe is about. It’s a banger, but it also has an incredibly infectious chorus that even a non-metal fan could definitely find stuck in their head.

The band also touches on some of the social unrest issues that we’re facing in “BOOM!” Wilhelmsson gets the spotlight on this one as he delivers an almost rapped vocal about his anger with society, which, of course, he’s going to set right with a boom. Molin brings it home with the chorus, giving an otherwise aggressive tune a little more of a melodic hook. It’s another strong and catchy song, except for one really cheesy and awkward moment where Ryd asks in a sultry voice “what else goes boom?” and Wilhelmsson screams “the breakdown goes boom!” It’s really goofy, and the breakdown that follows probably would have made for a stronger song if left out. “BOOM!” is still solid, but that bit kind of brings it down a little.

As usual, all of the singers get their spotlight. Ryd’s first moment comes as the boys get kicked off the bus for a duet with Battle Beast singer Noora Louhimo in the empowerment anthem “Strong.” She and Molin trade the spotlight on the ballad “Crystalline.” It’s not one of my favorite tunes on Manifest, not being a ballad guy, but I can see the artistry behind it.

We get a few more really solid efforts later in the album. One of them, “Archangel,” happens to be my favorite track. The song opens with some synth and monk-ish chants before it blows up into a complete rager. There’s a perfect balance of the three Amaranthe vocalists in this tune. Wilhelmsson opens the verses with his growl, Molin finishes the thought on the first verse, and Ryd gets the finish on the second verse. The chorus soars with harmonized vocals, Ryd’s over-the-top “woah-oh-oh-oh” and the staccato delivery of the line “Archangel has fallen down.” It’s just a pure headbanger from start to finish, and it always gets three or four repeats before I move on.

Finally, Manifest closes with another full-on metal assault in “Do or Die.” Here’s another song that touches on current events, making an environmental statement. Interestingly, Amaranthe released a version of this song back in the summer that featured Ryd and former Arch Enemy vocalist Angela Gossow. I’m assuming that will be a bonus track, but on the album version, Ryd takes a back seat to her male counterparts as Molin takes Ryd’s clean parts and Wilhelmsson takes on the raging role of Gossow with Ryd only providing harmonies on the chorus. Despite the fact that I’m a huge fan of both Ryd and Gossow, I think I like this version a little better, though the other is still awesome, too.

I love unique bands, and Amaranthe certainly is that. At times, it’s so poppy that I feel almost embarrassed to crank it up, but then it swings around and punches you square in the face. The hooks and melodies are incredible, and the total package is, more often than not, truly powerful to my ears.

Manifest is another very solid outing for Amaranthe and another contender in what, for all of 2020’s many other faults, has been a very strong year for metal. I’m not saying that it will get your significant other who is into Top 40 to listen to metal, but it’s got a better chance than just about anything else out there.

No comments:

Post a Comment