Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
‘Manifest‘: “Clear or obvious to the eye or mind” (adjective); “display or show (a quality or feeling) by one’s acts or appearance” (verb).
It’s certainly manifest that Sweden’s Amaranthe — singers Elize Ryd, Nils Molin and Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson (or GG6, as he’s affectionately known), guitarist Olof Morck, bassist Johan Andreassen, and drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen — are making massive inroads with their intoxicating blend of metal/ electronica/dance/pop that’s gotten better and better with each album. With ‘Manifest‘, the follow-up to 2018’s also excellent ‘Helix‘, they are decidedly at the top of their game.
Theirs are ridiculously catchy songs in that they have that pop sensibility (provided by keyboards and programming), but it’s never overdone. They are always heavy at their heart, with minimal soloing from Olof (who has virtually no ego as a guitarist; he gets in and gets out, knowing it’s the songs that matter). And they are succinct, honed to razor sharpness, with no fat, no excess. Few tracks break the three-minute mark, testament to how they’ve refined their songcraft. What might be perceived as them being ‘lightweight’ misses the whole point of the seriousness and thoughtfulness of many of their songs — they’re not frivolous in any way and are instead observant and astute with a critical eye to the world.
And so the opener, ‘Fearless‘, makes for a much darker and heavier start than ‘The Score‘ did on ‘Helix‘, proof that this was definitely an album done during dark times — it’s driving and harsh but yet optimistic. It’s about facing hardship (“I transcend the madness, I’m beyond all premonition” and “I transcend the blackness that consumed me, I’m beyond it”, and there’s that wonderful parallel structure they do so well with their lyrics) and rising above it. GG has an interesting line when he roars “Without horns I fall from grace”, as if to say even the good can come on hard times.
Elize delivers the prechorus, she and Nils and GG the chorus, then Nils in the next prechorus. This tradeoff in vocals in this particular way is unique to them — here it’s almost a line-by-line alternation — and it makes their songs a treat because you never know what combination you’re going to get, so you never get bored. Elize delivers the last chorus alone (a familiar tactic done many times here), before she’s joined by the men.
They really are the neapolitan ice cream of metal in that there’s something for everyone — you like female vocals, you get Elize and her honey-sweet purr; you like male vocals, you get Nils and his gritty, almost androgynous tenor; you like harsh vocals, you get GG and his eternally pissed-off bellow (and that’s a good thing). Musically, you get heavy guitars, you get dance-y keyboards, you get rhythms that insist you headbang — or dance, whatever moves you.
And so ‘Make It Better‘ is slower and more pummeling, with a grinding tempo and a great riff, the stirring chorus punctuated by GG, who also gets the final word. Its ominous ending, with the military snare drumming and foreboding keyboards, reinforces the point that this is dire and we need to do something. It’s pretty self-explanatory, that it’s up to us to change the world, but it’s those parallel lyrics that make it sing — “Society told you it’s impossible / To make it better” in Elize’s first verse, then “Society’s change is unstoppable / So make it better” in Nils’ second verse. If you’re a lyrics geek like me, this is pure gold.
‘Scream My Name‘, super short and rapid-fire, is just pure energy and fun, a message of defiance after disappointment, a demand to take me as I am (“I’m not asking you to understand me / Why I’m so demanding … Tell me that I’m outrageous now / I won’t be ashamed … Hope you can see that you can never change me / I’ll still be the real me”).
The more techno-flavored ‘Viral‘ says plenty in virtually no time at all — and a better play on words with the title you won’t soon find. Released right during quarantine, it’s extremely timely (“Now in the light of the screen you hide / From the pain that you feel inside”, as if to refer to all of us during lockdown, relying on our phones and Netflix and all that; “We live in a world of deception”, like no one really told the truth about COVID; “Now the derelicts have one voice”, well that’s pretty pointed; and “We’re on overload / As the final disease is going viral”, with that clever play on ‘viral‘ as both ‘virus’ and as a ‘video’ going viral). The second verse digs even deeper into the theme and changes it up a little, perhaps referring to all the societal unrest of the year — “We are born to abide from inception … It’s no doubt that we face extermination / I know we got to take the power back / The authorities have no choice”. And as usual, it has that chorus you learn immediately after one time through and sing along, because it’s permanently embedded into your brain cells.
‘Adrenaline‘ reminds that Morten is rather a secret weapon in this band, with his speedy double kick and knack for establishing those irresistible swings that drive their songs deep. It’s basically a song of physical attraction (“All I see, when I get what I need, and I like what I hear when you breathe when I’m near”) but with warnings set into it — “Be my final solution / But all I ask is to be concrete” and “Be my graceful damnation / But all I ask is be sincere” (there’s that parallelism with the lyrics again). Elize’s whisper of the lyric at the end eases the song’s physicality up a little and cools the heat.
I’m a huge fan of ‘Strong’, and not just because of the female energy and the powerhouse force of nature that is Noora Louhimo of Battle Beast, who guests on vocals. Another potent groove slows with the women’s verses, Elize delivering the first and the chorus, Noora the second and the chorus. Her wonderful grit and big booming vibrato, together with her descants in the last chorus, are so worth the price of admission here. And when they sing together in the bridge, alternating lines and in unison, they fit so beautifully together — it’s almost like Noora brings out Elize’s toughness and Elize softens Noora in turn. It’s the wake of a breakup, but it’s not sappy; it doesn’t dwell, it’s an admission (“I know I made a lot of mistakes / I know I’m not perfect in any way / But after all, who’s the one to blame / When I don’t even know myself”) and an acknowledgement that both parties were at fault (“I threw the fuel and you put the flame”).
“The Game”, terse and frantic, has another anthemic chorus, but it’s a serious one — “We can chase the past / But we cannot save the seven wonders”. It’s about how we’ve lost our innocence in a way (“So many days were left behind / Without knowing where they’re going / We saw the future through the glass / When we still believed in wonders”). The bridge is tense, with GG stressing the seriousness of the theme as the voice of doom (“The games you play / Our indifference will cause / A worldwide immolation / The price we pay / Is a constant, neverending flagration”).
‘Crystalline‘ is their customary lone ballad, which they don’t need to do, but Elize does them very well and this one especially is terrific. Her chorus is dainty and delicate with a soft bounce, but Nils gives it heft when he comes in with the full band. His falsetto is quite lovely and he gives his take on the chorus a more legato feel. The final take on the chorus is powerful, but it ends sweetly with pizzicato strings. Tasteful and restrained, it’s just long enough.
‘Archangel’ is almost classical in its feel, angry and bitter and dark. It’s no stretch to see another COVID reference in the line, “We brood in a land that is struck by disease”. GG’s warnings (“See a red moon rise up, an omen of grief / The son of the morning descends from Elysium’s creed”) are balanced in a way by the divine judgment of the chorus (“Archangel rise / The trinity has synchronized / A remedy for humankind”), like salvation is coming even though we might not deserve it.
‘BOOM!‘, GG’s solo turn, showcases the male energy of the band, and it suits him perfectly. His hip-hop influences are very apparent as he blasts through the lyrics like a machine gun (do not attempt singing along with him, because it’s impossible). Nils stars in the hot chorus, and the best part is when he’s wailing in his falsetto and GG snarls “Shut up!”. Elize’s seductive little growl announcing the breakdown is a hoot as well. This might be a lark at first blush, but the inherent message is very clear — the posturing and exhortation to violence (“Dynamite back in my ride and my backpack” and “Kill or be killed, I’m beginning to feel / Like obliterating everything is my will”) are very much what the world is feeling right now, as is the chorus (“I’m done with the hypocrites, down with the strife” and “Done with the politics, down with the lies”), just wanting to annihilate all of it. It’ll go over great live — if we ever get to be live again.
The more midtempo ‘Die And Wake Up‘ is a good follow to ‘BOOM!’, the idea of wanting to reset everything, about forging your own way despite the noise (“If you said so, you think that I would follow you / Swallow your words / It’s not a one-man show / Speak your ego, with your depravity / ’Cause you don’t see what I see”), and stressing that everyone needs to be on their separate path (“Don’t ever follow me / This is a one-way road / If I let go / You think that I’d go down with you / But I’m ruling my own world”).
The closer is a changeup on the second single released from ‘Manifest‘, ‘Do Or Die‘. Initially featuring Elize and manager and former Arch Enemy frontwoman Angela Gossow, the version here features Nils on clean vocals and GG on guttural. It’s a distinct comment on climate change (“What happened to the seasons / Fallout in the sky”) and predicting the future if we don’t act (“Apocalypse our remedy / Reap what you sow / Death and fire”). The environment is “a victim of vanity” and we make “Destruction our legacy”, while society is “Controlling us / To consume without / Any hesitance for the residents / Of this fading earth”. Not sure why the change in singers was done when the first version — and the accompanying disturbing video — was so dynamic, but it works well either way.
If the world was a just place, AMARANTHE would get so much airplay you’d get sick of them, they’re just that good. On every album they improve, lyrically and sonically — they’ve got a sound now and a niche and they’re just paring it to deadly precision each time. The sky’s the limit for them.