By Ally Urban and Nick Zabilka
a&z Productions is pleased to present this review of Amaranthe’s newest album, “Helix”! This article is a proud collaboration between Ally Urban and Nick Zabilka. The writing style follows a casual, conversational format while discussing the various aspects of this release.
Ally here! Nick was actually the one who introduced me to Swedish metal band Amaranthe back in 2016. I only started listening to metal in 2015, so I relied a lot on my friends to recommend new bands and songs for me to listen to. I immediately took a liking to Amaranthe and absolutely fell in love with the concept of having three diverse and powerful vocalists bringing their extraordinary talents to the table. It’s a very distinct and unique aspect within the band, which is comprised of six members.
The current lineup is as follows: Elize Ryd (female clean vocals), Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson (male unclean vocals, from 2013-present), Nils Molin (male clean vocals from 2017–present), Olof Mörck (guitars, keyboards, synthesizers), Morten Løwe Sørensen (drums) and Johan Andreassen (bass). There have been two lineup changes in the past with both male vocalists. Joacim “Jake E” Lundberg provided clean vocals up until 2017, and Andreas Solveström was the unclean vocalist until 2013. On a side note, I’d like to clarify that “unclean” vocals are also known as death growls, which are often used in metal.
Hey all, this is Nick. You know, it’s funny that you mention, Ally, how you were introduced to them because, frankly, I’m not quite sure I know the answer to that myself. My metal roots go all the way back to 2004 when I discovered Rammstein and it’s kind of just taken off from there. As I have expanded my horizons, I have acquired a bit of a hunger for metal bands with a strong female lead, and well, you can’t get much better than Elize. I believe I can thank the likes of Nightwish for ensuring my stumbling across their music but we’re not here to talk about them. This is about “Helix”.
“Helix” is Amaranthe’s fifth studio album, and was released on October 17, 2018, roughly two years after the release of their fourth album, “Maximalism”. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure my fellow collaborator and I also had a listening party for that album. Personally, I felt it wasn’t as strong as their first self-titled debut or “The Nexus”, but it was still a pretty decent release.
I agree that “Maximalism” wasn’t my favorite but I think that it’s important to note that albums deserve a chance to stand on their own accord. You hear it all the time with bands. Take All That Remains, for example. It is commonly agreed upon that The Fall of Ideals is considered one of their better works. But by no means does that suggest that The Order of Things isn’t a solid release worthy of respect. Quite frankly, I listen to the latter MORE than the former.
I absolutely agree with you on this point. It’s true that we as individuals have certain preferences along with the rest of society. Despite this, artists work hard to create and release something that they’re proud of. Although some works may be praised higher than the rest, that doesn’t mean that other albums should be overlooked.
As far as Amaranthe is concerned, it really is hard for me to get over “The Nexus”. The title track was my very first exposure to the band. There’s just something magical about the first time you hear a band, you know? It has a truly lasting impact for sure, and I’m happy to say that that magic is still alive and kicking five years later. Sure I had a soft spot for the unclean vocal styles of Andreas Solveström and it was hard, at first, for me to adjust to Henrik as it was quite different. But he acclimated to the dynamic of the group nearly seamlessly. Even Jake leaving the band and being replaced by Nils Molin for the clean male vocals role would suggest that there might be some adjustment required for the long time listener. I would go so far as to argue though that Nils needs to be showcased more, however, than he is on this album because it feels like he has been given a bit of a back seat, so to speak (except for the track “Unified” where he really shines).
Personally, I’m actually pretty lenient when it comes to line-up changes in bands. Of course, I’m sad to see members go, but at the same time, I’m interested to see what new members have to offer. Obviously, people have their favorite vocalists and instrumentalists and the like. If individuals leave, the question that remains is how the line-up change will impact the band’s style. This often worries fans, and sometimes, they may not be receptive to new content if a major change has occurred.
Take Bruce Dickinson leaving Iron Maiden in the mid 90s, for example, and being replaced by Blaze Blayley. Not the best changeup ever, am I right?
That’s very true— I wasn’t a fan of Blayley at all, but I think there’s a silver lining to every cloud. If a change isn’t panning out very well, a band that strives to deliver their fans the best music possible will re-evaluate themselves and fix whatever wasn’t working for them. In the case of Maiden, Dickinson thankfully returned to the band in the end. In any case, transitions during a period of change often require a period of adjustment, as you mentioned earlier. That being said, let’s use this thought to segway into perhaps the most important topic covered in this review: How do we feel about the album, taking these lineup changes into consideration, among other aspects? I know this is a loaded question, so let’s start off with discussing our initial reactions.
After listening to “Helix” for the very first time, I picked up incredibly energetic and melodic vibes. The pounding drums and electrically charged chord progressions and riffs add a delightfully heavy and intense aspect to the music, something I always particularly enjoyed about Amaranthe’s first three albums. Maximalism simply wasn’t as melodically diverse as I’d have liked, but “Helix” brings me back to the band’s early days. The diversity of the triple vocals stands apart but still meshes together with the instrumentation quite well. Ultimately, the mix between vocals and instruments is nicely balanced, and I’m really pleased about this.
The fact of the matter is that this album rocks, plain and simple. From the very beginning, Olof and Morton have always been an unwavering driving force behind Amaranthe’s music. I definitely feel there is an intensity to these tracks that has been missing from their past couple of releases. What strikes me as even more intriguing is that it is clearly obvious that they have stepped outside of their normal comfort zone in certain aspects while still staying true to their roots. Also, they just sound like they truly enjoy their music. There is a certain upbeat positive vibe to, really, all of their music that, I for one, really gravitate toward.
Absolutely! That being said, my favorite songs would have to be “Countdown”, “Helix”,” My Haven”, “Inferno”, “Dream”, and “Unified”. The first four tracks are very fast-paced and upbeat, with especially catchy melodies and instrumentals. The latter two are more ballad-y and feature some really beautiful piano progressions. Additionally, although I don’t think this is a necessarily weak track, “CG6” gives off some rap vibes during the unclean parts, which I’m not the biggest fan of. Nonetheless, this song is still a particularly good showcase of Henrik’s vocal abilities.
Circling back to my earlier comments regarding their experimentation, I am actually a big fan of the track “CG6”. When it comes to people who sit on the fence with Metal, there’s an old tired diatribe about the tracks on a record all sounding the same. Now, any seasoned listener will tell you that this is rarely the case if one were to simply give it a chance. But “CG6” opens the door for Amaranthe to add a little bit more spice and variety that could very well entice more listeners and fans that would otherwise give them a pass.
As far as my favorite tracks I would have to choose “365”, “Dream”, “Inferno”, “Unified”, and “CG6”. I know that most on that list overlaps with yours but we can’t help what we like, right? These tracks just do a really good job at encompassing the true variety that the band has to offer. We’ve already talked enough about “CG6” so I’ll pass on that one for now. But the track “Dream”, probably the one at the top of my list… this is one where the beauty and passion behind Elize’s voice really speaks to me on a personal level. Truly, every track deserves its place on this record. I think that’s why this album speaks volumes in ways that the past couple of releases just haven’t achieved.
One topic I’d like to discuss a little bit is the vocal balance between Elize, Henrik, and Nils. Although the female and male cleans and uncleans are woven together quite well throughout the album, I feel that Nils’ vocals could have been utilized a bit more. In most songs, I thought that he was a touch overshadowed by Ryd and Wilhelmsson. Did Molin hold back on his capabilities because this was his first release with the band? Could he have been cautiously testing the waters? I think this is similar to how Floor Jansen’s vocal capabilities weren’t used to their fullest extent on Nightwish’s 2015 release, Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Perhaps Nils’ was taking a back seat on this album because he was still adjusting to his role among the vocal trio. I certainly hope that in Amaranthe’s next release, Nils’ talents will be showcased a bit more.
I completely agree with your assessment on Nils. The track Unified is one of my favorites. Call me a sucker for a good ballad, if you will. But he truly shines on this track and as eloquent as it is, it leaves me yearning for more— and it’s just not there. I know we keep coming back to this topic of vocalist balance but I think it’s important to keep the lens focused on this issue. After all, this is what Amaranthe is most popularly known for.
Quite right! Because vocal diversity is one of the band’s core elements, it’s something that deserves to be discussed in detail.
At the end of the day, though, if I had to describe this album in three words, I would say it’s melodic, driving, and immensely energetic. I certainly think that Amaranthe has reasserted their profound and diverse sound in this release, and I truly hope that they’ll continue down a path of success as time goes on. I’d also like to mention that I really like the cover art for this album. It follows the same style as the cover art of the first two albums, with all the band members grouped together, and the Amaranthe “A” logo in the background.
Going through my music library and seeing the juxtaposition of their different artwork I would agree with you on that one, Ally. Amaranthe isn’t just Elize, or Henrik, or Nils. They are all one cohesive unit that all contribute equally to a product that is, for lack of a better word, powerful. One of my favorite movies is “Almost Famous”. It follows the struggles of a fictional band named Stillwater and there’s this scene where the band gets a shipment of t-shirts in that ended up being problematic. Basically, all of the members were on the shirt but the lead singer Jeff was the only member who was “in focus”. Leading to this huge band fallout over everyone else just being “one of the out of focus guys”. Needless to say, Amaranthe work really hard to make sure that every member receives the credit that they are due, and I respect that.
Ally: 8/10 axes, a headbangingly delightul release with tons of positive elements!
Nick: 7/10 axes, a truly emotional and powerful release that sees Amaranthe return to the very roots that has made them who they are today while still pushing the boundaries of their musical capabilities.
Average: 7.5 axes
The album opens with Elize saying that “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever. The goal is to create something that will”. It is my opinion that an artist never does or says something unintentionally. Every word, every chord has reason. It’s almost as if they have awareness of their own mortality with this line, and that is something that I feel is missing from a lot of the current metal power-houses. What with the lineup changes and style adjustments that Amaranthe has gone through over the course of their five albums one can only hope that there will be many more years to come that we shall be graced with their musical prowess. It has always been hard to categorize them into a finite box, so to speak. They are truly an artistic gift to the world of metal. What other group can master having three vocalists all with different vocal styles and pull it off as if it were no feat at all?
*Correction: The band member featured on the t-shirt was Russell, not Jeff, as mentioned above in the review.