Let’s get this out of the way: War Eternal is Arch Enemy’s best record since Wages of Sin, and if you disagree, I will fight you. There. Now that I’ve thrown my fanboy cards on the table, let’s talk about why. As if knowing that Angela Gossow’s retirement would put a world of pressure on the band – and likely also looking over his shoulder somewhat at his former band Carcass – Mike Amott managed to not only turn in one of Arch Enemy’s most inventive guitar performances in years with quickly-departed newcomer Nick Cordle, but also ratcheted the extremity knob up a few notches. “Never Forgive, Never Forget” is one of the most scorching openers in Arch Enemy’s career, and that’s saying a lot on an album that’s beyond speedy for a good chunk of its duration. Sure the midtempo crowd-pleasers remain, but going symphonic on “Time Is Black” and “Avalanche” lends a long-needed new wrinkle to Arch Enemy’s formula, and “Down to Nothing” is one of the most savage songs the band has ever recorded. It’s a shame some fans still aren’t giving the Alissa White-Gluz era a chance, because this is the most vital Arch Enemy has sounded in a very, very long time.
Key track: “As the Pages Burn”
Seemingly coming from out of nowhere, The Flesh Prevails not only marks a major step forward for Fallujah but also stands tall as one of the year’s most interesting genre blends. “Atmospheric technical death”? How is that a thing? But the trick to this album is that it transcends genre tagging; it’s as if they listened to Cynic’s catalog in reverse order and attempted to get back to the roots of what made Focus a classic, but with modern weight and power. As eager to push you to stratospheric vision quests as it is to annihilate you – often in the same song – something about this record has had a hypnotic grip on me since its release.
Key track: “Carved from Stone”
There are very few consensus choices for greatness in metal this year, but even those who aren’t huge black metal fans have had to give Behemoth’s The Satanist some serious respect. Nergal’s comeback from leukemia would have mellowed most likeminded fire-spitters, but instead, he turned around and crafted a masterwork. Unfolding in soundtrack-esque majesty and taking daring twists and turns through its impressively tight 44 minutes, it pushes the envelope without turning away from extremity, and that’s not always an easy thing to do. Nergal’s cathartic urgency doesn’t hurt either – this is the sound of a godless man rejecting his demise by channeling its darkness into something bigger than himself, and it’s as bone-chilling as it is brilliant.
Key track: “The Satanist”