Tuesday 29 January 2019

Arch Enemy - Covered in Blood (2019)

Country: Sweden
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 19 Jan 2019
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I have a love/hate affair with cover versions and what determines which half of that dichotomy I side with generally boils down to the answers to a few questions. Is the band bringing something new to the song? Are they introducing us to a band or a song that isn't generally known, at least within the target audience? Are they translating something from one genre to another? If all those answers come back yes, then I'm interested. If not, well, I'm less likely to be impressed.

Given that Arch Enemy play melodic death metal and this collection of all their many covers includes everything from Mike Oldfield to Carcass, via Manowar and Discharge, with even an Iron Maiden instrumental thrown in for good measure, I couldn't help but pay attention.

Certainly, some of the material here fits what I'm looking for in a cover version down to a tee, but not all of it and the end result, so often the case with compilations, is a real mixed bag. Where do I start? Well, let's run through the phases because pretty much all the expected phases are here.

First up, there's predictability. Shout, the Tears for Fears song, is one of those that everyone and their dog have already covered. Arch Enemy's version is OK, I guess, but it doesn't add anything new at all. The good news here is that the rest of the album isn't remotely as predictable. In fact, Shout is followed by Back to Black, but that's not the AC/DC song we might expect; it's a Pretty Maids track and that was an interesting and enjoyable choice for a band like Arch Enemy.

There are some classic tracks that work surprisingly well too. I adored their take on Europe's Wings of Tomorrow. It's utterly transformed here, nothing remotely like the original, and it sounds fantastic. The same goes for The Oath, a surprising choice of Kiss cover, taken from the Music from the Elder album, but it's a really good one that gains some real power in Arch Enemy's hands.

Not all the classics work and the ones that don't are just awful, because they should never have been attempted with death growls. The most obvious is The Zoo, a Scorpions favourite, which is musically glorious here but with vocals that just don't fit in the slightest. That goes just as much for Judas Priest's Breaking the Law and Iron Maiden's Aces High; they're both substantially lessened by the death growls. Oddly, Starbreaker, an earlier Priest cover, fares better.

In between is Kill with Power, originally from my favourite Manowar LP, Hail to England. The growls fit the song well and it's sped up and given more power, if not more immediacy. The reason it's in between is Angela Gossow's awkwardness with English phrasing. I think I'd put Symphony of Destruction here too, because Dave Mustaine's snarling vocal on that track translates well to Gossow's growl, but it's less memorable than the original.

The real joys are the obscurities, which come mostly from the punk genre. I'm reasonably familiar with British bands like GBH and Discharge and I have listened to the Swedish crust band Anti Cimex before, but the other Swedish punks represented here, Moderat Likvidation and the Shitlickers, were so new to me that I hadn't even heard of them. The eight punk tracks only take up eleven minutes, but they're glorious and I'll follow up on these bands because of this.

What's odd is that the vocals are often the makers or breakers here but the most successful songs here span Arch Enemy's three singers. Wings of Tomorrow may be the best track here and it reminded me that they used to have a male vocalist, Johan Liiva. He does well on Starbreaker too. The Oath and Kill with Power showcase Angela Gossow, who broke a surprising glass ceiling back in 2000. Meanwhile all the punk covers but one come from Alyssa White-Gluz's era, extras from the Will to Power album.

So, Covered in Blood is a mixed bag with the highs high and the lows low. What's perhaps most important is that the die hard fans will have all this material already, rendering this less than essential. It doesn't function as an album on its own the way that Garage, Inc. mostly did for Metallica.

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