REVIEW: AMARANTHE – “Maximalism”
It’s something of a shame that there are those whose tastes remain deeply-rooted in only the harshest realms of metal’s vast spectrum. There’s a whole host of great music that you could be missing out on if you’ll only open your ears and give something a chance before dismissing it as mass-produced pop pap (and I speak from experience as a teenage me was exactly that type of metalhead!)
There’s a very simple question that you must ask yourself when contemplating listening to Sweden’s melodic metal masters Amaranthe: how do you react to hearing pop music? If you’re instant reaction is something of unfettered revulsion and loathing, then nothing to see here, keep moving… However, if you’ve a wider musical palette and aren’t above a catchy chorus-or-two, then come on in, the party’s in full-swing and the cake is on its way! These Swedes, with an unusual vocal triumvirate of Elize Ryd and Jake E. on cleans, and Henrik Englund Wilhemsson providing the harsh vocals, have something of a knack for producing perfectly heavy and energetic metal but infusing it with such strong pop hooks that such a thing must be illegal somewhere (trve kvlt metalheads’ minds, notwithstanding).
Where the songwriting and performances excel, the drawback is the lyricism. Whether it’s the glut of metal these days with opuses of deep introspection, esotericism and cerebral singularity with a Type II Kardashev celestial civilisation, Amaranthe’s strand of lyricism comes across a little more basic. You’ve got some partying (“21”), a little of overcoming adversity (lead single “That Song”) and the ever-present love (“Endlessly”) – it all rather feels a little impersonal and generic. There’s even some rather cheesy moments to be found e.g. “We’re not ironic/We’re supersonic!” on “Supersonic”, or “It was a rough time, running out of money/Had a guitar and a jacket on my shoulder”. The music on offer screams metal, but the lyrics are straight out of pop – strip some of these on offer and replace it with mainstream music and they would not feel out-of-place at all.
As a result, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a lot of ‘Maximalism’ was written/produced by a team of producers, much like everything else in pop these days. Every track is around the stock three-and-a-half-minute affair and meticulously crafted – the focus is razor-sharp, and the fat and excess trimmed to a minimum. The result is a collection of well-written songs following the standard verse-chorus formula. Granted, it is very formulaic, but you largely forget about the staid nature of it with the energy and conviction Amaranthe go about with on each track. If you’ve taken the time to listen to a mainstream pop radio in recent years, you’d note the prevalence of EDM amidst low-energy vocal performances and the anti-chorus (essentially an instrumental drop where vocals would normally be, for those who shy away from such radio). They need Amaranthe’s vitality.
“21” is the party rock song you never had at your 21st birthday party, “Fury” bristles with molten metallic power and “Supersonic” soars with near-operatic bombast (note Ryd’s vocal gymnastics over the middle eight), whilst “Boomerang” has that earworm-quality to the chorus that will ensure it remains in your head for days (whilst the title itself must rank highly somewhere amongst the least “metal” titles for a track, with the possible exception of “Fuzzy Kitten Cuddles”, but that’s a challenge for someone else out there). All throb and pulse with EDM-cum-industrial electronics, whilst some of the lead guitar work from guitarist Olof Mörck is simply sublime – shred-tastic, yet tastefully done. The exception to the EDM hum, is closer “Endlessly”. It is something quite spectacular, with Ryd’s performance particularly spellbinding amongst the lush orchestration and half-time drumming thump. It’s like the big finale to a West End show that’s yet to be made.
‘Maximalism‘ is trimmed, concentrated and captures Amaranthe on their upward trajectory to the upper echelons of melodic/pop metal. For many, the band’s increased dalliance with pop and formula will be a huge turn-off, whilst the lyrics won’t hold much water with originality or innovation. Yet with solid riffs abound, coupled with electronic inflections and infuriatingly memorable melodies alongside some ripping performances, it’s another dependable entry into their catalogue. And just try getting some of these choruses out of your head. You won’t, unless you submit yourself to some form of invasive brain surgery (don’t submit yourself to some form of invasive brain surgery…)