The Catalyst

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. The Catalyst
02. Insatiable
03. Damnation Flame
04. Liberated
05. Re-Vision
06. Interference
07. Stay A Little While
08. Ecstasy
09. Breaking The Waves
10. Outer Dimensions
11. Resistance
12. Find Life
13. Fading Like A Flower

Contrary to popular opinion, AMARANTHE have never been a symphonic metal band. Throughout their 16 years of active service, it may have been a source of some irritation to founder Olof Mörck that his band have been so routinely and lazily lumped in with that particular subgenre. The truth is that AMARANTHE are proven masters of a risky but riotous blend of crushing heaviness and immaculate pop-rock, and despite sharing a few musical qualities with the likes of BEYOND THE BLACK and WITHIN TEMPTATION, the Swedes have always been a much more subversive and adventurous proposition. Four years on the widely praised "Manifest", their seventh album is an almost hysterically uplifting encapsulation of AMARANTHE's cross-pollinated sound. As the world turns to flaming shit and good news becomes increasingly hard to come by, "The Catalyst" is an exhilarating shot in the arm that should have fans, old and new, grinning until Christmas.

Weirdly, this is the first AMARANTHE album to allow some elements of symphonic metal into their razor-sharp and infernally catchy blueprint. The first single to be released from it, "Damnation Flame", was theatrical, gothic and joyous, with a florid and insidiously sexy video to match. But despite casually proving that they can bring the symphonic noise with the best of them, Gothenburg's kings and queens of bright-eyed bombast spend the rest of "The Catalyst" further sharpening their unique and fervently futuristic sound. Still vastly heavier than their reputation might suggest, these songs are simply the most crushing and charismatic of AMARANTHE's career to date. Buoyed by a rejigged line-up — new, third vocalist Mikael Sehlin provides rapacious death growls, alongside the divine Elize Ryd and the now well-established Nils MolinMörck's songwriting has reached a state of near-perfection here. Every last song is instantly memorable. Every chorus is tuned for maximum impact. Deceptively diverse and relentless charming, "The Catalyst" is like being beaten breathless by joy itself.

As ever, the opening title track startles by being far more brutal than expected, but with finessed melodies that make the anemic slurry of most modern pop music sound feeble in comparison. State-of-the-art, skittering electronics propel the song along, but it's the triple threat of Ryd, Molin and Sehlin that seals it. Three minutes long and brimming with energy, it seems to be entirely built from irresistible hooks. "Insatiable" follows: another sublime and succinct demonstration of pop-metal prowess, it would be a colossal global hit in a sane world. "Damnation Flame" is equally stunning, as AMARANTHE dabble in symphonic waters and emerge victorious, armed with another stupendous chorus and an audacious, mid-song detour that is mischievous and indulgent in the most celebratory manner imaginable.

And so it goes on: an audacious bombardment of massive melodies, skull-flattening riffs and intricate arrangements that honor the pugnacious simplicity of Mörck's songcraft. "The Catalyst" is relentless in its desire to lodge itself in the dark recesses of your skull.

Elsewhere, "Interference" is a swirling, trance-tinged electro-metal stomper; "Outer Dimensions" is a vivacious, runaway spaceship anthem that demands to be played over the end credits of some berserk sci-fi flick; "Stay A Little While" is a heart-shattering ballad that places Ryd and Molin front-and-center, as modernist opulence billows and blooms around them; and "Resistance" is a turbo-charged, techno-adjacent incitement to mosh, with all three vocalists spitting fire at high velocity. A triumph for brevity, these songs are all barely three minutes long, and their combined effect is enough to make even the most cynical metalhead giddy. A bonus cover of ROXETTE's "Fading Like A Flower" fits neatly into the album's overall aesthetic, and brings this absurdly entertaining record to an aggressively euphoric close.

No one does it better than AMARANTHE, and "The Catalyst" is the greatest record they have made yet. If you need cheering up, and Satan knows most of us do, this is beyond essential listening.

Author: Dom Lawson
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