Retrospect: Arch Enemy's 'Anthems of Rebellion' 20 years later
20 years ago, Arch Enemy tore down the walls with 'Anthems of Rebellion'
I was 16 years old. Getting into heavier, wilder, faster music was a goal for me. Despite what I believed around then, Slayer was not the heaviest band in existence. So I explored and branched out. One day, I was at Hot Topic with friends and a Coheed & Cambria chain wallet full of cash. I saw a compilation CD called Metal for the Masses, Vol. 3, put out by Century Media Records as a roster sampler of sorts. It had Orphaned Land, The Haunted, Shadows Fall, and what soon became my next ‘heaviest ever’ band, Behemoth. But it also had a song called “Dead Eyes See No Future” on it by a band named Arch Enemy.
This was all new, uncharted territory for me. Buying that CD and playing it front to back gave me so much more metal music of all kinds to dig into. Century Media’s roster was diverse, and while in retrospect not much of the music had staying power for me as I accelerated quicker toward a much heavier taste in metal and hardcore after this, select bands stuck out for different reasons.
Arch Enemy was captivating to teenage me because of the melodies and Angela Gossow’s vocals. In my youthful naivety, I was shocked and excited to see and hear a woman screaming in a metal band like this. The year after that - a few years from when Anthems of Rebellion first dropped - I got my hands on that album along with the band’s entire discography up to Rise of the Tyrant thanks to a friend and slammed them all onto the second-hand Microsoft Zune device I bought from that same friend.
Anthems of Rebellion was one of my favorites alongside 2000’s Wages of Sin. With its cleaner production, which was more appealing to me, Anthems had a lot going for it. It was Arch Enemy’s second album with Gossow on lead vocals after Johan Liiva left. Michael Amott, who put in some sick time with Carcass as a lead guitarist for albums Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious and Heartwork (one of their best) really got to show off his honed melodic chops with Arch Enemy.
Some of his best work for the band ended up on Anthems. In retrospect, “Dead Eyes See No Future” has the air of an album single with its digestible structure, simple yet fun melodies, intriguing solo leads, and a catchy hook, but it all amounted to something special at the time. Gossow’s throaty growl was entrancing and absolutely imperative to getting me more accustomed to harsh vocals as a kid.
Other songs on Anthems went much harder, though. “Silent Wars” was a rousing, proper introduction after the middling scene-setting of “Tear Down the Walls”, about as fast and explosive as the band could get in this new era they were entering with this album. It boasts big drums from Daniel Erlandsson and awesome riffs - even if a little uncomplicated - but the overall energy was high and fierce, especially when the solos kick in at the end. “Despicable Heroes” of course needs a mention as it’s probably the heaviest track on here, haranguing “preachers and leaders” who seek to brainwash and take advantage of vulnerable or naive people with “false dogma”. It rips and at only 2:12, the thrashiness it swings around is gone as fast as it appears. It’s really, really hard not to get on Arch Enemy’s side when they slide into their pocket of aggression to drive tracks home.
“We Will Rise” is another heater, lathered in ‘baby’s first rebellion’ lyrics, but I would be lying if I said they didn’t still carry an inspirational and indeed rebellious tenor even to this day as Gossow yells about being anything she wants to be, and rising up and above a nameless adversity. This song would be great Army recruiter music if it was slightly less antagonistic and cleaner with its tone, but goddamn it still hits something deep down in me. This is one of Anthems of Rebellion’s best songs.
Softer, smoother moments are also worth relishing too. “Instinct” takes things slower at first, but still has dark rumblings in its bass work from Sharlee D’Angelo and guitar melodies from the Amott brothers. Still very metal, but its initial melodic tapestry shows a lighter side of the band as does “Exist to Exit” with its intro. The softest yet, “Marching On a Dead End Road” is a short instrumental interlude with acoustic guitar and a foreboding tone that leads into the virulent dick-kicker that is “Despicable Heroes”. “Marching…” takes its name from the lyrics of “Dead Eyes See No Future” along with its primary melody in the chorus for a bit of a sweet reprise for those paying attention.
Aside from personal experience and analysis, this was a big time for metal and Arch Enemy had a sizable part in that. The 2000s was a great era to grow up and get into metal with. I didn’t know it at the time, but the first time I ever heard Arch Enemy was actually on MTV’s Viva La Bam when “Leader of the Rats” played during an episode, and probably a couple other Arch Enemy songs I forgot. Bam Margera actually put my generation onto a ton of cool music back then - that’s how a lot of people found out about Clutch (who I still love), Children of Bodom, HIM, and more, which in turn exposed us to more (and sure, better) music from that point. A quick aside to wish Bam and his family well as he clearly, obviously needs a lot of help in his life after fame and trauma chewed him up and spit him out unceremoniously. He certainly deserves better for all the fun years he gave us.
I think critically or cynically, especially with the value of hindsight, Arch Enemy can be seen as music for people who share “my music scares people” memes, but even as I say that, it’s with a dollop of self-awareness or just straight up jest when I admit, with no stipulation or qualification, that I still enjoy this album quite a bit. It’s genuinely fun, even in spite of its tryhard edge which is about as entry-level as it gets. Several people deep into their heavy music journeys would likely cringe at the thought of listening to - let alone enjoying - Arch Enemy and that’s fine. I just don’t seek to echo elitist attitudes that already run rampant in metal, and it would be pretty disingenuous of me to seriously dunk on an album that I actually like.
Twenty years later, does this album still hold up? Honestly, yeah, it does. While the revelatory qualities from when I first heard it as a teen surely dulled over time, the overall musicianship and skill didn’t. Nostalgia only goes so far to propping up albums we loved in our past, so for me to still be contorting my face and nodding along to “Leader of the Rats” and “Instinct” well into my 30s is proof of a lasting piece of work, one you could even stand to recommend to metal newcomers now - we all gotta start somewhere. Hell, I’d sooner hand someone curious about metal this album to try out than Sleep Token, but that’s more for raw stylistic connectivity than quality… all right, it’s about quality too.
I don’t listen to Arch Enemy anymore - haven’t really since my early 20s when I got into weirder, more obscure, and, yes, heavier bands over time. Nowadays they’re like a friend I used to know who I was close with for a time, but moved on from for whatever reason. They were important to me growing up and opened doors to other great melodic metal bands that I still like nowadays like Amorphis or Enslaved. Those are the makings of a band who will always have a small yet special place within me, and provide cool moments to look back on. I’m not alone either - there’s tons of people my age that got into metal and even hardcore through bands like Arch Enemy, an invaluable station for a band. That alone makes them worthy of their place in whatever pantheon of musical history they may end up in at the end of the line.