Released By: Spinefarm Records
Release Date: March 26th, 2013
Andy Solveström – Harsh vocals
Jake E. Berg – Clean vocals
Elize Ryd – Clean vocals
Olof Mörck – Guitars, keyboards and programming
Morten Løwe Sørensen – Drums
Johan Andreassen – Bass
3. The Nexus
4. Theory of Everything
6. Burn With Me
7. Mechanical Illusion
9. Future On Hold
As an extreme metal fan, I have to admit it sometimes becomes quite difficult to determine what is considered extreme or not. In the 90s, it was easy to figure what death metal and black metal were. Sure, you had some marginal bands like Septic Flesh, Therion or Dimmu Borgir that were trying to redefine their genre but 99% of bands were easily recognizable as extreme metal. Nowadays, with the coming of the folk metal, djent and metalcore movements, the lines are starting to blur. Many bands add more and more clean vocals, orchestras, electronics, etc.
At what point does a band stop being considered “extreme”? Is it when the band themselves don’t call themselves extreme metal anymore or when the fans/crowd say they’re “sold out” and are too “mainstream” anymore? If a band has 40% extreme vocals and 60% clean ones, are they still extreme metal? It’s a tough call anymore.
Take Sweden’s Amaranthe. Their winning formula is basically a triple vocal attack backed by energetic, bouncy metalized pop. Every song is mostly made up of catchy verses, a few rougher harsh vocal lines and Elize’s powerful voice topping it, making pretty much each and every chorus very catchy and getting the hooks going. The musical attack is still a bit controversial, though. Despite the few harsh vocals and the blasting, energetic assault, the songs have a definitively poppy structure to them. Some even have a near-EBM flavor to it, using electronic beats to create a very bouncy song.
To be honest, the band really took me by surprise with their self-titled debut back in 2011. My original thought after seeing the cover was along the lines of “Oh, another wannabe pop-metal sensation. Give me a flipping break!” or something of that nature. Then I heard “Automatic” and “1.000.000 Lightyears” and while at first, I didn’t quite like it so much (I found it too poppy). After hearing the whole album, I found that I enjoyed myself way more than I thought I would, and I figured I’d take this anyday over the latest misogynistic rap artist or the latest tramp “pop star”. Because let’s face it, Elize doesn’t just have the looks; she’s got a hell of a voice to go with the looks. While most “pop stars” lip-sync and couldn’t sing to save their lives without studio effects, she can definitely stand up for herself.
With all that said, some might think the band has no musical merit and the members are all metalcore nobodies with nothing to do with relevant metal bands. Well, that would be a dead wrong assessment! With Olof Mörck (Dragonland, Nightrage) on guitars, you know there’s some skill right there. Add to this the presence of Morten Løwe Sørensen (Mercenary, Dragonland, The Arcane Order) on drums and the powerful voice of Andy Solveström on harsh vocals (Within Y) and it becomes quite clear that some of the involved people here are no strangers to melodic death metal. So while the album is honestly quite far removed from the aforementioned bands, the skill is still there and some songs do take advantage of it. The band could use some drum machines and idiotic loops but Morten shines with his awesome drum sound. We could have a grating, boring metalcore screamer but we have Andy who’s been giving us some great Swedish melodeath with Within Y since the early 2000s. We could have a boring, nobody guitarist that can’t even solo and plays generic rock riffs but we have Olof’s tasteful and energetic playing. As such, while the band could be a disaster, the skill involved and the use of it is good enough to save the band from becoming another metalcore joke.
If 2011 brought the band to the light, it would be interesting to see if the band would keep it up with their sophomore album. Would they polish up their winning formula or take a whole different direction? Read on to find out as I breakdown The Nexus for you.
The album starts with “Afterlife” which right away greets with the band’s trademark triple vocal attack. It has a stupidly catchy chorus of the like which the band has become recognizable from with their debut. We’re off in force! “Invincible” keeps that going, with another pop chorus and some very well done hooks. A very catchy single, for sure. The title track “The Nexus” follows the same formula, sounding like a metalized version of an AOR hit single. No joke. I don’t mean that as a knock, by the way; I find that song incredibly catchy and I can’t help singing along to it. I’d rather hear that on the radio than the latest Nikki Minaj single, that’s for sure. “Theory of Everything” follows and the harsh vocals have a bit more presence in this one. It’s still a ridiculously catchy song, thanks to the trademark pop chorus. “Stardust” another metalized pop hit. Then there’s “Burn With Me”. I hated it at first; it’s much slower and is definitely ballad-y but after listening to the album a dozen times, I find it breaks the monotony and gives a break from the constant hyperactivity of the other songs.
The second half of the album opens with “Mechanical Illusion”. It’s a good song, but I find it doesn’t particularly standout from the rest. Perhaps it’s not as catchy to me? Either way, things change up with “Razorblade”, which bears that EBM-like sound I was talking about earlier and is pretty much a pure dance song. While I normally would be puking by now, I actually dig this song. It’s as deceivingly catchy as the rest of the album and it’s a strangely fun song to listen to. It’s also short and punchy, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is a great move from the band. I find this song to even be a highlight, actually. “Future On Hold” is another very catchy and energetic song in the lines of the first few songs of the album. Olof also shines with a great solo here. “Electroheart” is another very bouncy and dance-y number which is saved by its ridiculously catchy chorus and clever use of harsh vocals. “Transhuman”, despite being good, is a bit unremarkable and doesn’t particularly stand out for me. That is, until Olof suddenly whips up a beastly solo! Thankfully, the closing “Infinity” closes the album on a high note with the band’s trademark formula, boasting a triple vocal attack and a very catchy chorus.
All in all, I’m quite enamored and impressed with this band. For every annoying, boring metalcore band, there are bands like Amaranthe which despite not quite being extreme at all to me, are just so enjoyable to listen to and play with genuine heart and energy that I can’t help enjoy myself with their music. Seriously, I think people need to lighten up. I like occult black metal as much as the next black metal fan, but at times I do come out of my kilt basement and I like to have something fun and lighthearted. If I had to be stuck on a desert island with a “mainstream” metal band, I definitely wouldn’t do wrong to make it Amaranthe.
I do find that The Nexus sounds a bit too overproduced and polished; that would be my main piece of criticism for it. Yet, the music is so fun and enjoyable that I can’t really fault the band for it. However, I would still advise them to be careful with it, because being overproduced is often just as bad as being under produced and makes an album sound a little bit redundant rather than making it sound powerful and distinctive. But at this point, this is minor nitpicking and doesn’t keep this album and Amaranthefrom being some of the most enjoyable pop metal out there and keeps finding its way into my player much more often than I would have expected it to.
Written by Chris Auclair
Ratings Chris 9/10