LOUDER REVIEWS:'Manifest' - Amaranthe
When it comes to musical output, Sweden is generally known as a country that specialises in very upbeat Euro-pop on the one hand, and very heavy metal on the other. Generally-speaking, these areas are kept pretty well apart; but, unknown to many outside of the power/symphonic metal sub-genre fandoms, there exists a band that does both. Gothenburg sextet Amaranthe are a highly unusual prospect and are therefore somewhat divisive within the world of heavy music, as you might expect. As well as their unique blend of genres that many feel ought to be kept separate, their other signature is the use of three interchanging vocalists all with distinct styles (female clean, male clean, and male harsh). Since their eponymous debut record in 2010, Amaranthe have toured and released records relentlessly and have even successfully navigated the world of lockdown to get into the studio and record their sixth album 'Manifest', which should hopefully give fans something upbeat to get into as the prospect of winter months without live music beckons.
Kicking off the record with 'Fearless' is as keen a statement of intent as any, as after a quiet build, the tracks explodes into life with frantic guitars, drums, and synths all working in unison to get the listeners’ blood pumping and heads banging. Culminating in a real earworm of a chorus, this is a fantastic example to any newcomer to Amaranthe’s music of what they’re all about with Elize Ryd and Nils Molin harmonising well, backed up by Henrik Englund Wilhemsson’s furious growls to create a truly memorable opener. 'Fearless' is followed by the far simpler affair of 'Make It Better', which brings the tempo down somewhat and allows the heavier side of the band to come out, including a full on breakdown (not something they’re well known for) midway through, yet still partnering this with the sugary sweet poppy chorus fans of Amaranthe associate so closely with them. Next up, 'Scream My Name' comes in with a synth-heavy intro that sets the tone for the rest of the gratuitously upbeat track, which still nevertheless brings in some heavier moments to keep up the dynamics.
'Viral' was originally released back in June as part of Amaranthe’s lengthy campaign to promote the album ahead of release (though whether the video for it did actually go viral, I have no idea). Amaranthe are a polarising band at the best of times, but they may have pushed the boat out even further with this one as 'Viral' definitely ranks as the poppiest track they have every released, with an infectious bouncy chorus and more heavy use of electronic sounds which even upstage Olof Mörck’s guitars at various points. As its name suggest, the following track 'Adrenaline' brings no let up as the disco-infused metal onslaught continues, this time with a rather nice guitar solo from Mörck being the highlight. Unlike many of their Scandinavian heavy contemporaries, Amaranthe favour short and sweet tracks (as well as song titles) to keep the pace of their albums up; but every now and then there is time for a ballad. On 'Manifest', it comes in the form of 'Strong', which features Battle Beast’s Noora Louhimo. Up to this point, collaborations have not been a standard part of the Amaranthe repertoire, but 'Strong' marks a welcome, refreshing change as the male vocals are eschewed for a glorious duet between the powerful Louhimo and symphonic Ryd.
The respite does not last for long though as 'The Game' brings back the crushing dual rhythm section of Johan Andreassen and Morten Løwe Sørensen on bass and drums respectively, as well as the best vocal performance from Molin as he soars over the verses and duets magnificently with Ryd in the chorus. 'Crystalline' then brings another unexpected divergence from the norm, bringing in Apocalyptica’s Perttu Kivilaakso to provide cello and Dragonland’s Elias Holmlid to provide keys. The use of these instruments should give a sense of what this song sounds like and how much softer a track it is. While it may not strike a chord with all Amaranthe fans, it nevertheless gives Molin and Ryd more chances to show off their incredible vocal range (indeed, 'Manifest' is arguably Ryd’s strongest performance, which is saying something!). Another pre-released single, 'Archangel', follows, which also attempts not so much to break, but bend Amaranthe’s trademark sound, opting for more of a stadium-rock feel, though still with the heavier elements continuing to break the songs up.
These elements continue in the horrendously titled 'BOOM!1', which brings in Butcher Babies’ Heidi Shepherd for added guest vocals on a track which attempts a sort of rap style with Wilhemsson’s harsh vocals and some of the dirtiest and heaviest riffs Amaranthe have yet attempted. Although they have experimented with this vocal style before on their previous record 'Helix', they take the concept even further here, though not in a way that feels particularly coherent. 'Die and Wake Up' takes us back to more familiar territory, before the album ends on a track that caused quite a stir when it was released on Valentine’s Day due to the addition of former Arch Enemy singer (and now Amaranthe’s manager) Angela Gossow for her first vocal performance since leaving Arch Enemy eight years ago. Her trademark growls supplement the furious pace and catchy hooks of the song brilliantly to make sure 'Manifest' goes out on a real high (as well as casting doubt on the assertion that Amaranthe had too many vocalists to begin with).
For a band that has spent the last decade relying on a tried and tested formula, it is nice to see Amaranthe try some new things with their sixth album, some of which had started with 'Helix' but really comes to the fore a lot more with 'Manifest'. Although not everything they try works out fully - and indeed many of the stronger tracks come where they stick to their guns - what it does mean is that the record works a lot better as an overall piece of work than many of Amaranthe’s other records which have earned them a reputation as a singles band. 'Manfiest' stands up as a very solid record and their best output since 2014’s 'Massive Addictive' and continues their impressive history of putting out high quality material with a very high frequency. Amaranthe have never and will never be for everyone – metal purists need not apply – but for those looking to inject some fun into your heavy music, look no further.
'Manifest' is out now via Nuclear Blast Records - stream the record here:
Check out the video for the band's latest single, 'Fearless', below: