Considering it's been four years since we've been bludgeoned with new material from the four Swedish metal veterans and their spunky German growler known as ARCH ENEMY, it goes without saying that fans have been chomping at the proverbial bit for the arrival of "Khaos Legions". While those four years might have seemed like an unnecessarily long amount of time to wait for some (let's leave the rehashing of old tunes that was "The Root Of All Evil" out of this), I applaud the band's timing on this one. Remember the days when the release of a new album was something special? An event to be anticipated? It seems that bands today feel the need to restock the shelves every other year and the results, more often than not, feel forced and under-developed. "Khaos Legions" is anything but forced or under-developed and is well worth the four year gestation period.
"Khaos Legions" is both a step-forward and a return to form for ARCH ENEMY. On one hand, the album recaptures much of that hellfire, brimstone and melodeath aggression we got with "Doomsday Machine", but they've taken their craft and moved it to a decidedly more song-oriented place. Not that the brothers Amott were ever slouches in the tune-penning department, but there's some very memorable stuff on this album. Aside from the corny spoken word bit, "Khaos Overture" gives a nice build into the arena-metal anthem "Yesterday Is Dead And Gone". With a big, hooky chorus, driving riffs and Michael Amott's melodic footprint, I can easily see this one becoming a staple of the band's live set. "Bloodstained Cross" tears a page out of the book of TESTAMENT with its balls-out speed metal sections, while "Under Black Flags We March" gives a nod to "Painkiller"-era PRIEST. Tunes like "No Gods, No Masters" and "City Of The Dead" offer steak over sizzle with solid structuring, mid-paced stomp and anthemic vibes. The former is a future classic. "Through The Eyes Of A Raven" is an interesting tune with Neanderthal-like death metal grooves, Viking melodies and a mid-section that borders on heavy rock. The mixture works well and after a few spins, this became one of my favorites on the album.
With most albums this long, my attention can tend to wander at about the halfway point, but "Khaos Legions" is paced to avoid such a pitfall. The urgency of "Cruelty Without Beauty" and "Cult Of Chaos" (why they spelled "chaos" correctly here and nowhere else is beyond me) are enough to snap drifting ears back to attention. The instrumental "We Are A Godless Entity" was cool little break in the action, but I don't really feel like the album as a whole benefited from its inclusion. The disc does start to drag a bit towards the end with the formulaic "Thorn In My Flesh", but fires right back up with "Vengeance Is Mine". I think the album would have ended with more of an impact had they closed things out with the aforementioned rather than "Secrets", which is a great song unto itself that boasts some of Amott's finest lead work, but it just lacked that kick in the ass you want to go home with. This, however, is just me nitpicking.
In the grand scheme of things, "Khaos Legions" is a damn fine metal album. The production is top notch, but doesn't sound over-polished (Erlandsson's drums sound fucking thunderous, by the way). As usual, ARCH ENEMY displays stellar musicianship and tasteful songwriting. Angela Gossow's voice is as powerful as ever, but I can't help but wonder how much these tunes would have benefitted from a little dynamic in the vocal department. Her performance fits the songs to a tee, but an album this long needs a little variety up front. She offers none. The rest of the band, however, offers plenty diversity and dynamic. Although the band displays a few influences a little too boldly on their collective sleeves this time out, they did unleash a very well-rounded and solidly-written album that continues to grow on you after each listen.