Label: Spinefarm Records
I’ve been trying to decide for a good while now whether I should review Maximalism by Amaranthe. As you may or may not have caught, I was largely disappointed in this album the first time I heard it, with the opinion that it was simultaneously trying to be something it’s not and clinging too much to what they have already done in excess. Eventually, however, I decided that after a few months, it was time to give it another spin and see if I like it better after some time away.
[This review has been backdated from 02.2017]
Listen along if you dare:
The thing is, I think this album has one massive flaw, which is an overall lack of cohesiveness. The band can’t seem to decide if they want to be an electronic/dance band or a metal band. While some bands, like Blind Channel and Ember Falls, have developed the ability to blend genres with style and grace, when Amaranthe blends genres, it sounds messy and overdone.
The first two tracks, “Maximize” and the single, “Boomerang”, hang closer to their original electro-metal sound, yet the album quickly degenerates into something that sounds like a sad effort to blend 80s rock (think Queen or Skid Row -era music) with modern electronic music, and I’m sorry to say, it’s not pretty. Those first two tracks manage to recreate their original sound fairly decently, with “Boomerang” almost sounding too much like songs from their self-titled debut (a good album with only one song on it, essentially), but ends up suffering from overproduction and a severe lack of heavy elements – namely, a lead guitar and decent drumming (sorry, Morten Sørensen). Honestly, if these guys had Ember Falls’ drummer, the album might not have failed quite as badly. To be honest, if you want to be considered a heavy band, you need more than one occasionally-present heavy element; talking about Henrik Wilmhelmsson‘s growls here. He is literally the only heavy factor in many of these songs, and as one of three vocalists, he’s not exactly the focus of the music. Still, the first two tracks manage to be decent, if overdone. At least the lyrical concept in “Boomerang” is somewhat clever.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the next three tracks, “That Song”, “21”, and “On the Rocks.” The first of these has an intro directly ripped off from “We Will Rock You” by Queen, featuring lyrics much like they’ve been taken from Bon Jovi’s discography (think “Livin’ on a Prayer”). The song feels horribly unoriginal, and while very catchy, doesn’t offer anything interesting in spite of the good vocal performances across the board. Meanwhile, “21” sounds like an uninspired version of every other song they’ve ever written, and “On the Rocks” just feels… dull. The “nah-nah” parts again feel a bit too oldschool 80s for this band’s style, and the rest of the music is purely uninteresting. There is a much-needed guitar solo by Olof Mörck, but it doesn’t last long enough to save the song.
I’ve noticed that Amaranthe likewise has a pattern on every album. I suspect they follow a sort of formula when they both write and organize their songs, because on every one of their albums, one of the slowest songs (usually a ballad) has always been track 6. It is also always the best song on the album – “Amaranthe” on their 2011 debut was beautiful, “Burn with Me” from The Nexus (2013) was heartfelt and easy to relate to, and “True” from 2014’s Massive Addictive had a great deal of romantic passion. Now we have “Limitless”, which is not quite their usual ballad, but still one of the the slowest songs, and likewise the best track on the album. Why, you may ask? Because this song actually has a specific style and some structure to it, unlike the rest. It slows down just enough to be cohesive and has some actual feeling and emotion to it. This is the only song I find myself moving to when I’m not paying attention – easily my favorite and probably the reason this album scored as high as it did for me (I’d have given it two fewer points if this song hadn’t been on it).
Sadly, the album continues on with yet another super-generic Amaranthe song that sounds like every other Amaranthe song ever: “Fury”, which didn’t manage to catch my eye in any way before the album moves onto more of the same in “Faster” – one of the few songs that sounds like original Amaranthe (probably because Jake E wrote this one) and manages to be interesting in its semi-Asian-influenced solo. Meanwhile, “Break Down and Cry” is another one of the only good songs on the album (also written by Jake), but has anyone else noticed some seriously bad file corruption on Spotify? This song glitches out like a badly scratched CD.
I could keep going, but at this point, there hardly seems to be any point to it. I find very few Amaranthe songs stand out from the masses. If anyone out there can name a non-single, non-ballad favorite Amaranthe song, I’ll be genuinely impressed, because after a while, they all just blend into one another. Don’t get me wrong, the music is catchy and fun, and I don’t necessarily dislike listening to it per se, but there’s just not much that differentiates one song from another. It’s all over-produced, offers almost nothing to appease fans of the heavy aspects, and Elize Ryd on vocals often sounds nearly identical to Rhianna. Even the bass (by Johan Andreassen) doesn’t stand out in the mix, and that’s a huge part of electronic metal that’s nearly completely absent.
“Endlessly” is the only other slower song, closing out the album, and it’s nice enough. However, the lyrics are pretty generic and again, the song lacks any necessary depth and beauty to make it stand out as a ballad; I find this particularly sad, as ballads were the one thing I always thought Amaranthe was great at. Love songs are a dime a dozen or more, so you have to work hard to make them mean something these days; Amaranthe used to do that, yet this song fails in that regard. Maybe if I was younger and had heard less music in the span of my life I’d like it, but I feel like I’ve heard these lyrics a thousand times before. There’s also something vaguely familiar about the riff that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe something by Queen again. I think it might have helped if this had been a proper duet with Jake E, as both male vocalists are mysteriously absent, and Jake in particular could have added some depth to the mix. Alas, it fades into oblivion as one more romantic yet unimaginative song.
I’ve been trying to be a fan of Amaranthe for ages now, but once again I find myself listening to their newest album with a rather large degree of distaste. Their music is fun and upbeat and great for festival scenarios, but as always, their albums have maybe one to three genuinely good songs, followed by a massive amount of unimaginative filler. I mean, even Ryd, who is an amazing singer, manages to sound painfully generic on this album. There isn’t a single song on that breaches the 4 minute length, making a 12-song album clock in at under 40 minutes, and still manages to feel overly long. It’s not a bad album if you want to listen to some pop music in the background and not pay attention, yet there are practically no songs that stand out and there are a few early on that are just downright bad. Honestly, I don’t know why they don’t drop Wilhelmsson’s growls altogether and just turn themselves into an electro-pop band, as that feels like the genre that holds their true passion, considering there is nothing heavy about them musically. I frankly can’t blame Jake E for dropping out of the band at this point.
Rating: 3/10, 2 stars.
3. That Song
5. On the Rocks
9. Break Down and Cry