'Ravenous' and 'Burning Angel' were the first tunes I'd heard by the melodic death metal band Arch Enemy - both appear on this album - and I was into the mix of double bass drumming, galloping rhythms, harmonized leads and some of the shredding solos. And although growling isn't my preferred singing style, I was amazed by Angela Gossow's vocals on these songs - especially given that I thought these had been recorded with Johan Liiva, their previous - and male - vocalist! But Johan Liiva'd already left...
My ratings are as follows:
[*] - Nothing really catches the attention.
[**] - Something grabs my attention.
[***] - Gets me air-drumming, air-guitaring and singing along to the track.
1. Enemy Within - Wages of Sin starts to the sound of the piano, but it's the lead guitar coming in before the minute mark that stands out - it sounds like some violin pizzicato playing! The first song Arch Enemy recorded with Angela! [**]
5. Savage Messiah - the buildups at the beginning and middle share the same underlying riff - but whereas the guitarwork for the former is brooding, the latter sees to a beautiful guitar solo bestowed with pretty pentatonic passages. [**]
6. Dead Bury Their Dead - strong guitar riffing throughout, and in-between the chugging and galloping is some top thrashing. Also, the guitars harmonize for triplet tapping leads in the solo, and back off for the bass to do its bit before the finale. My favourite track off the album. [***]
8. The First Deadly Sin - thrash metal with great grooves! [***]
9. Behind The Smile - the weakest song on Wages of Sin, and though it feels filler - what with the sparse guitars throughout the slow choruses - it does have a decent guitar solo, and which is not without a harmonised section. [*]
10. Snow Bound - a nice short instrumental with keys and Michael's leads over Chris' clean arpeggios. [**]
11. Shadows and Dust - or dust in the shadows of the other songs. [*]
12. Lament of a Mortal Soul - a bonus track, despite ending the way the album began - to a piano part. But the best bit of this song being the bouncy intro. [**]
2. Burning Angel [**]; 3. Heart of Darkness [**] 4. Ravenous [**]; 7. Web of Lies [**]
Though there are few memorable riffs throughout 'Wages of Sin', the guitar playing from brothers Michael and Chris Amott is really good. Daniel Erlandsson's drumming is as impressive as it is immense, as are Angela's vocals - if I could only growl like her! For comparison, the first edition of Wages of Sin comes with an extra CD featuring Johan Liiva on vocals. On this CD are covers: 'Starbreaker' (Judas Priest), 'Aces High' (Iron Maiden), and 'Scream of Anger' (Europe), as well as good - 'Diva Satanica', and bad material of their own - 'Fields of Desolation '99', 'Damnation's Way'. There's also a short, sad instrumental in 'Hydra'. The quality of the songs varies on this second disc, and the same can be said for the first.
This is my favourite Arch Enemy album (from the limited perspective I have) the first third or so of it holds together very well indeed. There's some great riffing and solos and a lovely rich guitar sound, and accompanied very well by Angela Gossow's vocals. This is pretty much the only Arch Enemy album I listen to, and I don't listen to everything on it, you can be the judge of what that means as to the value of my opinion. It becomes slow and slack after 'Ravenous', and continues that way with an interval of greatness with 'Web of Lies'. I don't know quite what this combination of two distinct styles of tracks means, perhaps they were written during two different periods? There are a couple of excellent covers on the second disc of 'Aces High' (Maiden) and 'Starbreaker' (Priest). They are worth a listen, apparently not to everyone's taste though. Johan Liiva performs the vocals on this disc.
Having fired Johan Liiva due to general unfitness for vocal duties on stage and in the studio, Arch Enemy made their wisest career decision, in a capitalist sense, by recruiting Angela Gossow: a woman of all things (there goes the neighbourhood). Not that women singers are unheard of in the metal world, in fact these pesky creatures get pretty much everywhere, but it's true that they haven't tended to feature in the comparatively limited number of extreme metal bands crossing over into the mainstream, which was where Arch Enemy were headed at just this moment.
'Wages of Sin,' their breakthrough album in a commercial sense, continues the progression of its three predecessors in their own adaptation of Michael Amott's earlier work in Carcass, mixing violent death metal with melodic elements from classic heavy metal (particularly the prominence of lead guitar melodies and slower, catchier choruses) in a concoction that became increasingly watered down with each subsequent release. Following the slightly cheesy but still powerful 'Burning Bridges,' 'Wages of Sin' is a less hostile affair that occasionally attempts death metal for some nostalgia, but is more content to play a particularly hoarse variant of European power metal, disguised as something darker through Gossow's banshee roar.
This is an enjoyable album but is still essentially wrong as a diluted form of death metal that relies too much on stereotypical and often piercing light guitar melodies to struggle to make the same point that has already been made, to much greater success, by other Swedish melodic death practitioners such as Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and At the Gates. That said, some of its offerings are incessantly catchy, and viewed more honestly as a heavy power metal album with harsh vocals and some tediously slow bits, it fares very well. The song 'Ravenous' in particular, with its frantic riffs, grooving verses and daft air guitar melodies is perfectly suited to be someone's "my first melodic death metal song," and although several tracks end up sounding like an uninspired Iron Maiden tribute without the enthusiasm, there are still some such as 'The First Deadly Sin' and 'Lament of a Mortal Soul' that show a greater death metal potential and hint at what the album perhaps ought to have sounded more like.
As a sort of classic metal/death hybrid, there are a few songs that take an overly melodic approach, but to their credit always retain a general foundation of darkness (there's no damned power ballad for a start). 'Heart of Darkness' is a cool medium speed song with a nice, slowed-down chorus that sounds rather like a TV theme tune, a trait more associated with the guitar solos of the 'Burning Bridges' album, but the doomier 'Savage Messiah' and 'Behind the Smile' are missteps in their attempted Black Sabbath wickedness and emphasis on atmosphere that isn't particularly well evoked. The Amott brothers' guitars are again the main highlight of the disc and tend severely towards over-the-top performances, but as long as you don't take it too seriously this is pretty fun and strange stuff, even if the harsh vocals sound distinctly out of place.
1. Enemy Within
2. Burning Angel
3. Heart of Darkness
5. Savage Messiah
6. Dead Bury Their Dead
7. Web of Lies
8. The First Deadly Sin
9. Behind the Smile
10. Snow Bound
11. Shadows and Dust
12. Lament of a Mortal Soul
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Enemy Within
2 Burning Angel
3 Heart Of Darkness
5 Savage Messiah
6 Dead Bury Their Dead
7 Web Of Lies
8 First Deadly Sin
9 Behind The Smile
10 Snow Bound
11 Shadows And Dust
12 Lament Of A Mortal Soul
15 Aces High
16 Scream Of Anger
17 Diva Satanica
18 Fields Of Desolation
19 Damnations Way