Black Earth is the debut album from Swedish band Arch Enemy, founded by the Amott brothers, Christopher Amott and Michael Amott, following the latter’s departure from British grindcore legends, Carcass. Initially released in December 1996, Regain Records reissued the album in a digipack with three bonus tracks including a cover of Iron Maiden‘s Aces High.
Contrary to popular knowledge of Arch Enemy around the time Regain Records reissued their debut album, Black Earth, in 2007; the band actually started with a male singer. Specifically Johan Liiva, who fronted the pivotal underground band Carnage, a pioneer in the Swedish death metal sound in the late 1980s along side Dismember and Entombed among others. The band also featured Michael Amott and actually split-up when he joined Carcass in 1990. The remaining members of Carnage went back to Dismember, and Liiva joined the humorously named Furbowl. Six years on and with the release of Black Earth, there is a reunion of sorts for Carnage. Joining the brothers and Liiva is drummer Daniel Erlandsson – the younger brother of At the Gates drummer Adrian – who had a brief stint with In Flames with an appearance on the EP, Subterranean.
All-in-all, Arch Enemy are not your regular band formation in the sense that the each member carries a pedigree in Sweden’s extreme metal scene. This is shown in their execution of their of their instruments with Black Earth being a showcase in a tight arrangements and consistency to a fault. Whilst it would be hard to argue against the musicianship on song such as Eureka and Idolatress, the album suffers from an infliction very common in thrash metal bands. Especially those of the teutonic thrash persuasion; an equal measure strict and stoic consistency to a specific sound and style. It’s further compounded by the raw and ready nature of the performance and production.
Whilst pigeoning-hole a band is as fraught as judging the artistic endeavour of siblings for the fridge door, describing Arch Enemy as “melodic death metal” is a bit misleading but oddly apt. Black Earth definitely leans more heavily on the influences of thrash and death metal than it’s ability to thrown together melodic textures to a growling core. However the guitar solos betray a penchant for Iron Maiden-esque guitar solos. Some what bizarrely, the keyboards are some what deafened out of the mix despite being handled by Fredrik Nordström, who clearly did not repeat the mistake when Dream Evil followed years later.
The early Arch Enemy did demonstrate a great deal of promise on the better efforts. The aforementioned Eureka and Idolatress along with Transmigration Macabre all showcase fine arrangements, catchy hooks and a good showcase of guitar solos. Many other songs on the album offer much the same in varying degrees, beguiled that consistency to a fault. The album’s two interludes whilst a bit different are largely forgettable and are a some what odd inclusion. Although with the benefit of hindsight, Demoniality does sound like Michael Amott‘s impromptu audition for his later involvement in Candlemass. The 2007 reissues inclusion of Iron Maiden cover Aces High is undoubtedly aimed more at appeasing completionists fans who bought the original and looking for a little more to justify a second purchase.
In 1996, Arch Enemy were promising band with a functional debut album in the form of Black Earth. It perhaps commanded more given the array of musicians assembled and their background but in truth it delivered exactly what any one in 1996 was looking in a melodic death metal band from Sweden at the time. Those who focus solely on the consistency and lack of deviation as a strength should bear in mind that by the time of the 2007 reissue, Black Earth became a footnote in the band’s history.