The Swedish pop metal magnates of AMARANTHE are back again with another hard-pop album through Nuclear Blast Records soon. I’ve been trying to decide for a good while now whether I should review “Maximalism,” for as you may or may not have caught from live reviews, I’ve been a bit disappointed in the direction the band’s been taking. However, with a few days yet before release, it seemed prudent to give the album a solid chance before writing the band off.
This album has one massive flaw, which is an overall lack of cohesiveness. The band can’t seem to decide if they want to be an electronic/dance band or a metal band. While some bands, like BLIND CHANNEL and EMBER FALLS, have developed the ability to blend genres with style and grace, when AMARANTHE blends genres, it sounds messy and overdone.
The first two tracks, “Maximize” and the single, “Boomerang,” hang closer to their original electro-metal sound, yet the album quickly degenerates into something that sounds like a sad effort to blend ’80s rock (think of the era of bands like QUEEN or SKID ROW) with modern electronic music. Those first two tracks manage to recreate their original sound fairly decently, with “Boomerang” almost sounding too much like songs from their self-titled debut (a good album with only one song on it, essentially), but ends up suffering from overproduction and a severe lack of heavy elements – namely, a lead guitar and decent drumming (sorry, Morten Sørensen). Honestly, if these guys had EMBER FALLS‘ drummer, the album might not have failed quite as badly. If you want to be considered a heavy band, you need more than one occasionally-present heavy element; talking about Henrik Englund Wilmhelmsson‘s growls here. He is literally the only heavy factor in many of these songs, and as one of three vocalists, he’s not exactly the focus of the music. Still, the first two tracks manage to be decent, if overdone.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the next three tracks, “That Song,” “21,” and “On the Rocks.” The first of these has an intro directly ripped off from “We Will Rock You” by QUEEN, featuring lyrics much like they’ve been taken from BON JOVI‘s discography (think “Livin’ on a Prayer”). The song feels horribly unoriginal, and while very catchy, doesn’t offer anything unique in spite of the good vocal performances across the board. Meanwhile, “21” sounds like an uninspired version of every other song they’ve ever written and “On the Rocks” just feels… dull. The “nah-nah” parts again feel a bit too old-school ’80s for this band’s style and the rest of the music is purely uninteresting. There is a much-needed guitar solo by Olof Mörck, but it doesn’t last long enough to save the song.
I’ve noticed that AMARANTHE likewise has a pattern on every album. I suspect they follow a sort of formula when they both write and organize their songs, because on every one of their albums, one of the slowest songs (usually a ballad) has always been track 6. It is also always one of if not the best songs on the album – “Amaranthe” on their 2011 debut was beautiful, “Burn with Me” from “The Nexus” (2013) was heartfelt and easy to relate to, and “True” from 2014’s “Massive Addictive” had a great deal of romantic passion. Now we have “Limitless,” which is not quite their usual ballad, but still one of the the slowest songs and likewise one of the top tracks on the album. Why, you may ask? Because this song actually has a specific style and some structure to it, unlike the rest. It slows down just enough to be cohesive and has some actual feeling and emotion in the vocals. This is the only song I find myself moving to when I’m not paying attention.
Sadly, the album continues on with yet another super-generic AMARANTHE song that sounds like every other AMARANTHE song ever: “Fury,” which didn’t manage to catch my eye in any way before the album moves on to more of the same in “Faster” – one of the few songs that sounds like original AMARANTHE (probably because Jake E. wrote this one) and manages to be interesting in its semi-Asian-influenced solo. Meanwhile, “Break Down and Cry” is another one of the only good songs on the album (also written by Jake E.), but has anyone else noticed some seriously bad file corruption on Spotify? This song glitches out like a badly scratched CD.
I could keep going, but at this point, there hardly seems to be any point to it. I find very few “Maximalism” songs stand out from the masses. Don’t get me wrong, the music is catchy and fun, and I don’t necessarily dislike listening to it per se, but there’s just not much that differentiates one song from another. It’s all over-produced, offers almost nothing to appease fans of the heavy aspects, and Elize Ryd on vocals often sounds nearly identical to Rhianna. Even the bass (by Johan Andreassen) doesn’t stand out in the mix, and that’s a huge part of electronic metal that’s nearly completely absent.
“Endlessly” is the album’s pure ballad, closing out the album. It’s nice enough, however, the lyrics are pretty generic and again, the song lacks any necessary depth and beauty to make it stand out in the endless sea of ballads; I find this particularly sad, as ballads were the one thing I always thought AMARANTHE was great at. Love songs are a dime a dozen or more, so you have to work hard to make them mean something these days; AMARANTHE used to do that, yet this song fails in that regard. Maybe if I was younger and had heard less music in the span of my life I’d like it, but I feel like I’ve heard these lyrics a thousand times before. There’s also something vaguely familiar about the riff that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe something by QUEEN again. I think it might have helped if this had been a proper duet with Jake E., as both male vocalists are mysteriously absent, and Jake E. in particular could have added some depth to the mix. Alas, it fades into oblivion as one more romantic yet unimaginative song.
I’ve wanted to like AMARANTHE for ages now, but once again I find myself listening to their newest album with a rather sour flavor in my mouth. Their music is fun and upbeat and great for festival scenarios, but the album has maybe one to three genuinely good songs, followed by a massive amount of unimaginative over-produced plastic pop filler. I mean, even Ryd manages to sound painfully generic on this album. There isn’t a single song on that breaches the 4 minute length, making a 12-song album clock in at under 40 minutes, and still manages to feel overly long. It’s not a bad album if you want to listen to some pop music in the background and not pay attention, yet there are practically no songs that stand out and there are a few early on that are just downright shameless. Honestly, I don’t know why they don’t drop Wilhelmsson‘s growls altogether and just turn themselves into an electro-pop band, as that feels like the genre that holds their true passion, considering there is nothing heavy about them musically. I frankly can’t blame Jake E. for dropping out of the band at this point.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- That Song
- On the Rocks
- Break Down and Cry
Elize Ryd – vocals
Joachim “Jake E.” Lundberg – vocals
Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson – vocals
Olof Mörck – guitars
Johan Andreasson – bass
Morten Lowe Sorensson – drums
Nuclear Blast Records
Interview with messier — “There’s only three of us, so we have to make it count and get the sound as big as we can.”