Recorded at Studio Fredman, Gothenburg, Sweden, in December 2000. Produced by Fredrik Nordstrom and Michael Amott. Mixed by Andy Sneap and mastered at Backstage Studios, Ripley, England, in January 2001.
There were huge problems with the release of the album in the American and European markets. The release date is for the Japanese version by Toy Factory and that version only had one CD with the first eleven tracks and no video. That is the version we have here. The two CD version for Europe and the Americas wasn’t released until 18 March 2002.
Arch Enemy are one of those bands that most people just assume I’m already into, and they often express surprise when I tell them that other than four tracks ripped from magazine-cover CDs I have never really listened to them. And they would be right, of course. I too have often felt that I should listen to them, but like many things in life it comes down to priorities and I have chosen to spend my money elsewhere. It turns out, though, that I may have had my priorities in all the right places.
Wages of Sin is Arch Enemy’s fourth studio album, and their first with (then new, now former) vocalist Angelo Gossow. And that’s where my main issues lie, to be honest. It’s not that she’s a female vocalist—there are plenty of female vocalists that I like. I would be saying the same if the vocalist had been male: I just don’t enjoy the vocal performance on this record.
The music is great: it’s heavy, it’s melodic, there are some amazing hooks and dynamics. And then this brutal vocal track bores through the middle of it all. In places it’s like an incessantly barking dog or a gurgling sink. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate growling death metal-style vocals. I love Opeth and Lamb of God, for example. But the vocals on this recording are so monotonous. It is such a wasted opportunity to add something amazing to this amazingly powerful music. As I listened to this album I could hear the vocal melodies that got away: something powerful, something bombastic, something that fuses the clean with the gruff. This album calls for a mixture of Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) meets John Bush (Armored Saint/ex-Anthrax) meets Michael Åkerfeldt (Opeth/Bloodbath/Storm Corrosion).
So… I don’t like the vocals. We’ve established that. On to the music.
The opening track “Enemy within” has a staccato-ed start but builds nicely. “Burning angel” has the feel of “Hanger 18” by Megadeth. “Heart of Darkness” is a solid song, with enough twists and turns to make it interesting. “Ravenous” has fleeting moments of Helloween and some crazy Whammy pedal-inspired widdles. “Savage Messiah” opens with an Alice in Chains-inspired groove picked out on a clean guitar. “Dead bury their dead” has a Kreator vibe to it. “The first deadly sin” has an old-school thrash-tastic opening and one where to be fair Gossow’s vocals work a treat where she is able at last to find a way to change the pitch of her gruntings. “Behind the smile” has a brilliant stop-start riff that probably makes it my favourite track on the album. “Snow bound” is a short instrumental acoustic track with a rather predictable melancholic solo over the top; but it is still rather pretty and a welcome change from the onslaught. “Shadows and dust” reminds me something else but I can’t quite put my finger on it—it’s been bugging me all week, please put me out of my misery and tell me in the comments. “Lament of a mortal soul” closes the album with a solid track that chugs us along nicely to the terminal.
Despite my grumblings about the vocals, this is a pretty solid album that gets better the further into the recording you get, and the more familiar you become with the songs. Rather than putting me off, it has rather made me want to check out their later recordings to see how Gossow’s vocals have matured. It should score more, but there you have it.
[UPDATE: Erm… it turns out that I have listened to then before. In fact, I reviewed them on this here blog only a few weeks ago. And I gave it 90%. Oops!]
Review score: 75%