Monday, November 11, 2013

Vinyl Report: Arch Enemy - Black Earth


Before I go any further, let me just do the standard introductory drivel. Vinyl Report is a new article series devoted to reviewing albums as well as the quality of their pressings as vinyl records. So pretty much, it's just me ripping off Metal-Fi wholesale. LET'S GET TO IT.

Original year of release: 1996
First vinyl pressing release: 2002, Regain Records (1xLP, Black Vinyl, 33RPM)
Version used for review: 2010, Back On Black/Regain Records (1xLP, Clear Vinyl, 33 RPM)

I could just open this review with all the standard ranting about how Arch Enemy was so much better before they switched vocalists and replaced songwriting with tits, but for the sake of this review, I'll just stick to this album on its own merits. Back when they first formed, Arch Enemy was something of a melodic death metal supergroup, with Michael Amott (guitarist of Carcass), his brother Christopher (making his debut appearance on this album playing guitar alongside Michael), Daniel Erlandsson on drums (having previously played on In Flames' seminal EP, Subterranean) and Johan Liiva (of Carnage, another band he performed in with Michael Amott) on vocals. With all of this previous experience, you couldn't really go wrong, and for the most part, this album succeeds on that front. It's a solid melodeath release that still holds up today.

The biggest issue that some listeners will hold with the album are Liiva's vocals, which, admittedly, take a bit of time to get used to. There's points on the album that his vocals are just "uh what", like his laugh-inducing outburst of "OH" on Idolatress, or his out-speeding the verse riff of Transmigration Macabre, leaving an awkward period in the middle of the verse with no vocals. Ultimately, though, the music itself surpasses these occasional screwups. Memorable riffs and hooks, accompanied with great solo-work courtesy of the Amotts is a constant throughout. Black Earth is a good album on its own, and is a great debut album for Arch Enemy, such as they were until the 2000s.

Black Earth wasn't pressed onto vinyl upon its inception, with its first release being in a limited run on standard black vinyl by Regain Records back in 2002. Since then, Back On Black has repressed the album (including a Japanese bonus track and two Iron Maiden covers) onto clear vinyl, with a gatefold sleeve including lyrics. I've always had a sweet spot for clear vinyl (and how can you not?), and this release, although a bit barebones, is relatively slick looking. The production of the album shines on the LP as well, with the guitar tone sounding extra crisp and the bass being more audible, as one would expect from a good vinyl pressing. Despite supposedly being a limited pressing, you can find this release going for around $15 on Amazon, which is shockingly cheap for the product. If you like good ol'-fashioned melodeath, you won't regret picking this one up.

NOTE: Century Media is pressing a 2xLP edition on black and yellow vinyl that includes the same tracks as this release, as well as a second LP of a live performance in Japan from 1997. This release is supposedly "remastered" and features new artwork, but given Century Media's idea of "production", I'd take a more cynical standpoint towards it until the final product is released.

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