Arch Enemy - Stigmata (1998) - Second album - Century Media Records.
The Arch Enemy of today is known for their skilled guitarists, and one of the only female Melo-Death Metal vocalists out there. Little know or have even heard the old Arch Enemy, pre-Angela Gossow. I have listened to the newer Arch Enemy, and I see a huge difference in not just the vocals, but also the song-writing as a whole. Now, for me, I much rather prefer the old Arch Enemy, however, I must note that Arch Enemy has never been a band I hated, and they are an extremely talented group.
This was Arch Enemy's second album, and featured Michael Amott on guitar, who is widely considered one of the most skilled guitarists of the genre, Martin Bengtsson on bass, Peter Wildoer on drums, and Johan Liiva on vocals/rhythm guitar. Each member here is in their prime and fullest form. Each musician is notable, and all have their moments to shine. You've got Mike going crazy on guitar, and well-sounding and addictive riffs courtesy of both Mike Amott and Johan Liiva, you've got Peter on drums, who, while might not be as technically proficient as other drummers in this vast genre, can be most noted for his creative use of his cymbals, and the sounds he's able to produce out of them. You've also got Martin Bengtsson on bass who, sadly, doesn't stand out very much, but he does have his moments if you are willing to listen carefully (the drums, vox, and guitars are much louder than the bass in the mix), and you've also got, once again of course, now former vocalist Johan Liiva, who most die-hard Arch Enemy fans seem to prefer. Now, I could very easily go into this long criticism comparing the two vocalists, but for now, I'll spare you all, not only because I don't want to take up too much space, but also because it's unfair to compare the two. They have 2 different styles of singing; it would ultimately be comparable to apples vs. oranges. Johan Liiva does give a good raspy voice, and what I consider to be one of the most decipherable "growls/grunts" in the entire genre of Metal.
Now, that being said, the song-writing here, like mentioned above, is very different from later albums with Angela Gossow in the mix. It seems rawer, less produced, and has a certain dark atmosphere. The riffs are surprisingly addictive, the solo's are amazing to say the least, the drums are clean, not sloppy, and don't conform to the typical double bass stomping, but rather, leaves the double bass to a minimum and does what's needed to help out with the atmosphere of the dark, down-tuned, heavy guitars. The vocals fit in with this music also surprisingly well, and as mentioned, the bass is very muddy and blends in with the guitars most of the time. Each song goes through many time-changes, which doesn't leave you bored with either song (depending on your tastes), and there is a healthy mix of variety as well. Some songs are slow-paced and pick up later; other songs are mid-paced, and stay that way; and the rest are either instrumental pieces once again meant to keep the mood of the album going, or they are fast paced, thrash induced songs with blistering guitar-work. Either way, this album won't fail to please you regardless of what forms of Metal you like most. Also worth noting, the songs here are more epic-length, as opposed to the typical 3-4 minute songs on later albums like Doomsday Machine and Wages Of Sin.
1. Beast Of Man: This is the album opener, and is absolutely relentless. Its one of the more Thrashy, fast-paced songs with minor slow parts in the middle. Contains some of the best riffs on the album. Also, the solo's are very well done and absolutely infectious.
2. Stigmata: The title track, Stigmata, is an instrumental, mid-paced song. A decent song overall, but sort of on the verge of filler material.
3. Sinister Mephisto: This track is very groove-oriented, and contains a very catchy main riff. One of the better songs of the album. Also definately worth noting, is the drums, and the use of cymbals. Very creative, very well-done.
4. Dark Of The Sun: This is a mid-paced/slow song with more catchy riffs. The vocals here are pretty raspy, and doesn't fit the song TOO well, but it does its job overall.
5. Let The Killing Begin: A decent song with a mostly fast pace. However, not one of the more impressive songs on the album. More verge of filler material for me.
6. Black Earth: My absolute favourite of the entire album. It also happens to be the slowest song on the entire album, but there's just something about it that's addictive. One of the better Arch Enemy songs in general in my opinion. Best vocals on the album, best riffs (and one of the better riffs I've heard of any band), amazingly well-done solo's, entertaining throughout. Great song, I'd buy the album just for this song.
7. Hydra: Yet another instrumental piece meant to transition the mood of the previous track into the to follow up, Tears Of The Dead.
8. Tears Of The Dead: Yet another one of those rather fast-paced songs with infectious riffs and groove. My other favourite just because of the catchiness factor.
9. Diva Satanica: One of the faster songs on the album. (if not, the fastest). Now, granted, this is not fast in the sense of, lets say, Rotten Sound fast, or even Cryptopsy fast, but it utilizes its tempo well. Great song in general.
10. Damnation's Way: Another mid-paced song with fast riffs, and a slow chorus. Not exactly my favourite, but its not filler material. Johan's vocals sound especially nasally here for some odd reason.
11. Vox Stellarum: Basically, this song, in a nutshell, is a very atmospheric 2 minute piano piece with a guitar, drum and bass interlude in about the middle, and contains some of the only soulful guitar playing on the entire album. If I were to choose any of the instrumental pieces over the rest, this would be it.
12. Bridge Of Destiny: The longest song on the entire album and has more of that fast guitar work accompanied with quite a bit of the double bass. In the intro, at least. Great song to close the album too.
So, with ALL OF THAT being said (and yes, it's a lot to read, I know), the final verdict is: if you are a fan of Melodic Death Metal, or are into at least melodically influenced bands with rather harsh vocals, and fast paced drumming, then this album is for you.
Thank you for reading.