Black Earth (Regain)
by Tim Den
When Arch Enemy‘s debut, Black Earth, first came out (only in Europe) in ’97, I was lucky enough to have a friend in France mail me a copy. I was super stoked to hear that ex-Carcass/ex-Carnage guitarist Michael Amott had returned to playing melodic death metal, and was hoping for an absolutely crushing release. Black Earth, for the most part, gave me exactly what I was looking for: Brutal death metal executed with Necroticism-era Carcass finesse, memorability, and melodiousness. It was far from rivaling the great Carcass, of course, but in the barren metal world of ’97, it was enough to satisfy my cravings.
Most know by now that the band would use Black Earth as a launching ramp to become one of death metal’s biggest names in the next decade, but compared to recent releases like Doomsday Machine and Anthems of Rebellion, does Black Earth still stand up as a necessary listen? Surprisingly, yes. I dare say even more so than most of the band’s recent works. Blasphemy, you say? Well, think about this: When Amott founded the band with his brother Christopher, the metal world had yet to become numb to the kind of melodic brutal riffing that Carcass had invented. Similarly, the Amott brothers were still writing to their hearts’ desire, unaffected by the strict definitions that today’s fans/press place upon the “melodic death metal” sound. Black Earth was an unselfconscious effort to be pretty and crush at the same time, and it didn’t pull any arena rock tricks in order to win over fans. Whereas Anthems of Rebellion and Doomsday Machine are products of a band well aware of their signature style and worldwide fanbase, both records reek of “must satisfy the fans” and “what riff will sound great in a soccer stadium?” Black Earth utilized strange tempo shifts and a variety of chromatic, minor-based scales that often forsook predictable chord progressions for something much more inventive/affecting. Anthems of Rebellion and Doomsday Machine, on the other hand, busy themselves mainly with “been there, done that” power metal riffs that, if played wimpier but more flamboyantly, could double for The Darkness’ repertoire. What I’m getting at is this: Anthems of Rebellion and Doomsday Machine are almost too “rockstar”/”rock ‘n’ roll” in their riffs and too easily headbangable, while Black Earth sounds like how early ’90s death metal acts pure-heartedly pursuit melody as well as aggression. There’s just more boldness and less thinking about how many people can pump their fists to the simple beat.
Not that Black Earth is Arch Enemy’s best – that honor goes to Burning Bridges – but listening to it 10 years later, it just comes off as much more sincere and honest than most of melodic death metal today. Perhaps Amott’s ex-Carcass band members would argue with me over using the adjectives “sincere” and “honest” (they’ve claimed that Amott only came back to melodic death metal – after having abandoned it around ’94 – because he knew it would be popular), but they probably never heard Anthems of Rebellion.
This here reissue is pretty much the same as the one Century Media released in 2003. There’s an extra original, two Iron Maiden covers (with downtuned guitars and death metal growls… yuck), and a video for opener “Bury Me an Angel.”
Not to take anything away from the incredible current vocalist Angela Gossow, but Johan Liiva (ex-vocalist; also played bass on this record) was also a helluva frontman.