Positivity has been in short supply this year. We know all the stories, glued as we are to our phones and screens, endlessly scrolling through news sites and pausing to digest the latest updates. Music has always been a refuge we can disappear into during troubled times, and Amaranthe are about to drop an album that is, in the band’s own words, truly joyful.
As a genre-bending six-piece featuring three vocalists, each focused on their own clearly defined roles, Amaranthe have always stood apart from the rest of the modern metal crowd. Sonic experimentation is usually cause for controversy, but these guys seem to have very few haters. The sheer positivity Amaranthe have exuded at every stage of their collective careers has been enough to vaporize online trolls, and keep the band on an even keel as they achieve increasing levels of international success.
Inevitably, life has thrown many curveballs in Amaranthe’s direction – but they haven’t damaged the band’s momentum. Whether changing vocalists twice or figuring out how to manage the logistics of writing and recording Manifest during a global pandemic, Amaranthe have always found a way to keep going. Luck may have played a part, but this project could have easily fallen apart without the right attitude.
Listening to Manifest, it’s impossible to ignore the armor-piercing force of will and determination that Amaranthe have applied to every track. Working alongside Grammy-nominated producer Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Epica, The Black Dahlia Murder), Amaranthe have come away with a highly detailed, polished, and impactful set of songs that demand your full attention. Even before the coronavirus, when life was busier and free time was harder to come by, this album would have been just as captivating and mesmerizing as it feels now.
Although Amaranthe have experimented with new creative approaches in the past, notably embracing poppier influences on 2016’s Maximalism, most of their back catalogue has remained formulaic. The formula in question is unique to Amaranthe, and forms the core of their signature style, but deviations from the norm have been quite limited up to this point. Fortunately, Manifest sees the band push themselves beyond their individual comfort zones, coming away with their most intense and attention-grabbing album to date.
The most obvious example of the above is “BOOM!1”, a tongue-in-cheek rap-djent excursion reminiscent of British outfit Hacktivist and featuring Butcher Babies vocalist Heidi Shepherd. This track is the last thing you’d expect from a band synonymous with pristinely polished metalcore and power metal crossovers, but somehow, it just works. Harsh vocalist Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson even breaks into some high-speed rapping, influenced by the likes of Eminem and Yelawolf, turning the whole track into a technical tour-de-force.
At the other end of the intensity spectrum, Apocalyptica’s Perttu Kivilaakso lends his cello skills to the seductive ballad “Crystalline”, dedicated to the loved ones Amaranthe were forced to socially distance from. Amaranthe have always included ballads on every album, but “Crystalline” stands out thanks to its peaceful minimalism and spacious arrangements. If you play “Crystalline” and “BOOM!1” to someone unfamiliar with Amaranthe’s work, they’ll struggle to believe that both tracks were crafted by the same band.
During a time defined by social distancing, it’s interesting to hear Amaranthe deploying a wild cast of guest musicians throughout Manifest – and another pair of contributions are particularly notable. Battle Beast frontwoman Noora Louhimo pops up on empowerment anthem “Strong”, while legendary Arch Enemy vocalist Angela Gossow (who also happens to manage Amaranthe) lends her idiosyncratic growls to bonus track “Do or Die”, which first dropped as a preview single on Valentine’s Day this year. Amaranthe’s male vocalists are absent on both tracks (although they do feature on the official album version of “Do or Die”), while Elize Ryd and her duet partners completely nail it.
As a whole, Manifest is Amaranthe’s most experimental, dynamically diverse, and generally adventurous album so far. By cranking up the intensity, they’ve pushed themselves as musicians, and given their catalogue the extra boost it’s always needed. Steamroller confidence is great, but it often comes from holding back – and Amaranthe have really set themselves loose here. When the “Manifestour” comes, arenas will surely beckon once more.