Enforcer - Zenith

Enforcer Zenith cover
Nuclear Blast Records
Enforcer have been true darlings of the metal scene, with their cheerful classic inspired metal, youthful looks and silly spandex pants, making them look like the natural heirs to the throne that the old school metal gods are about to vacate… sooner or later… and while I have a first-hand account that the guys live and breathe, what they’re doing, I’ve been a little more critical of their past efforts than most. They’ve been able to forge the odd song or even album that manages to sound both not retro, but also absolutely true to their 80s idols, but I hardly was convinced that they were of the same caliber as say the Priests or the Maidens (at their prime) of this world, which in itself is a very tall order.
Just being busy, I didn’t have a chance to listen to this album, until actually after it had been leaked and come out, but while I generally liked the band, I saw it first-hand creating a huge rift between the fans of the band, with half decrying it as not metal enough, as it seems to go out of its way to sound melodic and the rest loving it, as it shows a band not content with regurgitating the same old material and wanting to experiment, while remaining within the confines of the genre and their abilities.
Mixing the proto-metal tendencies of The Scorpions at their hardest and mixing them with a healthy dose of speedinouss NWOBHM ala Satan, they come up with a deliciously cheesy speed hard rockin’ metal that’s however authentic enough to warm itself to both the hearts and ears, despite sounding a little wimpier than before.
“Die for the Devil” feels as if it was written by Anton Kabanen (BiB), but without any disco patterns occurring in its duration. No Travolta’s were hurt during the making of this nice piece of metal that’s just too damn catchy to the point where it could easily be considered poppy.
“Zenith of the Black Sun” tries to be an epic song, probably one of Enforcer’s most involved compositions and shows that they can sound interesting both when the push the pedal into the metal, but also when they attempt more melodic material. In a strange marriage of hard rock riffs, galloping rhythms and an epic mysterious atmosphere, the band will either win or lose some of its hardcore metal fans, but it does so, while putting forth a valiant effort to win even more.
“Searching for You” doesn’t year for lyrical awards, but it’s simple riff ‘n infectious melodies, manage to easily cut through even the most staunch metaller’s puritanical defenses.
“Regrets” (the English version of Terminal’s “Zadnji Izlet”) however was a little hard for me, a self-professed fan of many things melodic to appreciate. Fans of the band’s speed metal will probably be frothing and foaming at the mouth at this mostly piano driven piece, but my issue is not with them; in fact, I think it’s a bold, but nice composition. What I have an issue with however is Olof’s very weak and annoyingly nasal performance. As much as it might damage their “metal cred”, if the song was a masterpiece people would not really be able to say much against it… other than express their disdain at the stylistic departure. I feel that in doing this song the band has bitten more than they can choose and ended up coming short at least in the execution department, since the song could have been a monstrously epic ballad, if someone with the necessary range and pathos had tackled it.
“The End of the Universe” is another effort in creating a more complex artistic Enforcer in a song that has a nice enough riff and a couple of noticeable rhythm shifts, but is a far cry from being called progressive. In fact it sounds a little bit like something that could have been part of a soundtrack.
“Sail On” sounds very 70s inspired rock/metal, but let’s say that Olof Wikstrand’s insistence of singing parts that are high enough that make him sound “strained” even on album, is not necessarily a good thing. I thought this song sounded like Byron era Uriah Heep, if they were a metal band, just to give you an analogy… only if Byron was not just as good.
“One Thousand Years of Darkness” with its orchestral hits and attempts to stray away from the speed metal and diversify into something quite unique, ends up sounding like a bastardization of Enforcer with the more epic moments of Rhapsody, but without all the instrumental ornamentation and over the top scope of the Italians. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t seem to have graduated to a point where it won’t crumble under the weight of its own aspirations.
“Thunder and Hell” decides rather wisely to feed the rabid metal fans that must have felt “betrayed” by all the artistry that has proceeded this song by gifting them with a song that sounds like a mix between Raven early Metallica and Exciter. Which is good stuff. Not content however without displaying some degree of sophistication, the song concludes with a totally unrelated lamentation of acoustic guitar that luls on for about half a minute for no apparent reason.
“Forever We Worship the Dark” is a bizarre number, where Enforcer while trying to maintain its metallic cred, attempts to create what is probably is their most adventurous song. By mixing some rather ethnic sounds and rhythms that you wouldn’t expect them to use, Enforcer, and with Olof not trying to sound above his fach, the band delivers a rather impressive, percussive and inspired number that while it might raise some eyebrows, it does manage what the band has set out to do and that would be to develop their sound and avoid stagnation. Strange but beautiful to paraphrase an album that did stray a bit too much for its own good in the process splitting the band that released it.
And to those that condemn the band for trying to sound “commercial” and aor/hard rock like… I think they’re deluded... would a band with such aspirations finish an album with a song named “Ode to Death” a bizarre concoction, that reeks of Mercyful Fate, Manowar and whatnot?! Probably not. Another case where, despite the band taking chances with their sound and what’s expected of them, they seem to win their personal wager, to grow musically.
While the album is uneven and likely to estrange a good number of the older fans, I salute the band’s decision to move a step beyond and out of their comfort zone and experiment with their sound. If it fails spectacularly they can always come up with a safe album, but if it doesn’t they could still follow their artistic muse… imho, they should continue on this new path, but proceed with caution and change with moderation, easing in the listeners, rather than abruptly throwing curve-balls at them and it would be wise for Olof to try and keep the vocals in a range where he feels comfortable and sounds best. If they had been careful with the songs that occupy the middle of the album, it’s flow would have been immensely better, as now it’s not only the excitement that dies down, but also the tempi and overall vibe for the better part of almost a quarter of an hour.
The way I see it, this is a transitory album that doesn’t particularly disappoint and definitely makes the band’s future look both adventurous but also hugely promising, which is a totally positive thing. I doubt this is the bands’ artistic peak (“Zenith”) and I’d suggest they follow Ze Scorpions suggestion and “Don’t Stop at the Top”.