It’s little wonder that Amaranthe are able to churn albums out with such rapidity (this is their fifth since 2011, for the record), given how easy they find it to bounce back from knocks that would leave other bands incapacitated for significantly longer. The most obvious one to come recently is the departure of longtime male vocalist Jake E Lundberg in 2017, and yet only five months later, Dynazty’s Nils Molin was recruited as his permanent replacement to appear on this album. Sure, it’s not uncommon for symphonic and power-metal bands to cycle through members fairly regularly, but it’s the fact that Amaranthe haven’t even seemed to flinch upon losing such a key part of their lineup that stands out most.
What’s more, Helix also seems to be the band’s attempt at reconciling with their fans after many believed 2016’s Maximalism to take their pop-metal stylings too far towards the pop, particularly with the lead single being the defiantly pop-rock-influenced That Song. Therefore, Helix pushes the metal more to the fore, and pop still occupies a huge sector in the overall sonic pie chart, the more flagrantly saccharine and cheesy Euro-pop is in much shorter supply. And yet, it’s that saccharine and cheesy Euro-pop that made that album such a riotous listen at points, and while Helix does iron away some of the more conspicuous lumps for a more cohesive album, it doesn’t quite feel as much fun.
Still, that does average out for Helix to be more or less on the same level as its predecessor, mostly because Amaranthe’s primary ethos of charging in all guns blazing whenever possible remains untouched. This is still exactly as blaring as you’d expect for an album trying to cram in power metal, melodeath, electronica, pop and three individual vocalists into every corner, and when there’s barely a moment that Amaranthe make space to breathe or mellow out, it can be a pretty full-on listen at times. What’s most peculiar though, is that it’s not really as bad as when so many others have tried the same thing. Sure, the farty synths that cut through the entirety of 365 or the general clamour of My Haven really aren’t that good, but for a band wanting to sound heavier while keeping their contemporary edge, Helix largely succeeds. For once, there’s some actually weight to the guitars instead of just volume, and the fact that Olof Mörck is more keen than most to break out into a solo is definitely a good thing, and lends some more classic rock flair to a track like Dream. It’d definitely be nice to have some better-defined layers – especially when the synths can really begin to bleed into the guitars for a horrible grinding effect – but for achieving that greater level of death metal muscle that was missing from their last album, Amaranthe have succeeded here.
The problem comes with how much they overcompensate, and that’s almost solely down to the increased presence of Henrik Englund Wilhemsson. Historically on Amaranthe albums, he’s been fine when used sparingly as an accompaniment or a backing vocalist, but on Helix he’s given more time in the spotlight than probably ever before, and that only highlights how jarring he can be in the context of everything around him. It’s more of a case of this album not needing to be heavier, and thus it’s why the other two vocalists feel so perfectly suited to be here. Elize Ryd is the powerhouse she’s always been with the knack for a knockout chorus that can elevate even the weakest cuts here somewhat, while Molin – though not appearing as often as he really should – really does steal the show with a more theatrical vibrato that belies his background in more traditional power-metal acts. But pretty much every time Wilhemsson comes in, the momentum is cut and he delivers a passage of screams that seriously distracts from where Amaranthe’s greatest strengths are. The reason that both Countdown and Breakthrough Starshot stand out above everything else is because of that pounding, four-to-the-floor beat brings in the pop influence that can be so clearly traced from the vocals, and integrates it; conversely, GG6 and Iconic opt for a sound closer to metalcore and strips away any of the fun or excitement. Sure, it’s good to hear Amaranthe embracing their metal roots with greater force, but when that comes at the expense of what made them stand out, it just feels hollow.
And thus, Amaranthe continue to struggle to hit the right balance within their sound to present them in the best light. The “trial and improvement” method isn’t seeing them improve even if this does feel like a more complete body of work, and whenever they do hit points that truly captivate and entertain, they don’t last that long. But if anything, Helix feels even less essential that what Amaranthe have delivered in the past, culling and ossifying what made them interesting in the first place for an album that’s almost totally forgettable away from a few spare moments. Even the choice cuts don’t feel like a band delivering their best material, and with two albums in a row now struggling to hit the right beats, you start to wonder if that band even know what that is anymore.
For fans of: Children Of Bodom, Dead By April, Sonic Syndicate
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Helix’ by Amaranthe is released on 19th October on Spinefarm Records.