Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Arch Enemy - Stigmata
(Century Media)

First you gotta know the history. Arch Enemy comprise Mike Amott from Carnage, Carcass and the godly Spiritual Beggars, his brother Chris and bassist Martin Begtsson both from Armaggedon, Johann Liiva from Carnage and the under-rated Furbowl, and new drummer Peter Wildoer who actually steps out and steals the show, damn! What they've woven is a staggering follow-up to the equally dense and intelligent Black Earth debut, Stigmata stacking upon high influences from black to death to thrash to classic '80s metal, emerging from the tunnel as one enigmatic tactical unit of metal might. It's hard dipping into that '80s vibe and remain respectable, but Arch Enemy have mastered the plunder, pulling just the best while caking the thing way underground with aggression and your middle bad bark, not too sour, not too sweet. Emotionally powerful and prog-finessed to the teeth, calling this one a timeless masterpiece would not be unwarranted, Arch Enemy rhythm-pounding their way down a devilish path that frost-cocks all the filmy-eyed priss of the new Maiden clones, Amott's sense of classic being more about classic Euro death and classic US power than classic commercial. Just feels important, that's all.
Rating 9

Hollow - Modern Cathedral
(Nuclear Blast)

No real hyped story on this one, Modern Cathedral being a sure-footed debut (after one mini), from a bunch of chilly Swedish blokes with little previous pedigree. But man, Hollow rule, playing a sort of middle metal that combines groovebang stuff like Accept, Priest, and '80s Sabbath with elevated prog touches. But it's not like those art metal records we all find so tiring, Hollow recording like a mess, all crackle and distortion, cymbals all over the place, the backing barrage providing the perfect foil for the splendiferous, persuasive vocals of Andreas Stoltz. There's a chemistry here, the hefty result sounding not unlike a rudimentary Nevermore, Hollow somehow marrying the crushingly metallic with the complicated in a way that remains fussy without the egos.
Rating 8

Covenant - Nexus Polaris
(Nuclear Blast)

OK, big news again for two reasons, one being that this is another supergroup black metal project (Dimmu Borgir, Mayhem, Arcturus, and a weak link to Cradle Of Filth), second being the record's obvious bow to commercial accessibility. But wence again, it's a poisoned, down-the-chain commercial ruse, Covenant designed to poke and jab the soul, tug those Nordic heartstrings, and blacken the disposition, while delivering said creepiness with perfectly serviceable recording and playing, vocals not too, too harsh, music only a couple of blocks from Maiden. Sure lusty sure, this works for me in low temperatures, but I'm not sure those born of black will approve, the hyper trend-wary world of the informed denigrating anything considered too starry, even if said elements comprising Covenant are probably next to broke despite their notoriety. Quite vampirically entertaining for us weakened by Welkin, but alas, a tame, tailored, arable bit of frost is all Covenant can claim.
Rating 7