For reasons unknown, it always comes as a huge surprise that AMARANTHE are as monstrously heavy as they (always) are. Admittedly, you have to enthusiastically subscribe to the notion of heavy metal as an upbeat artform to truly embrace what the Swedes have been doing over the last decade, but while it doesn't take a genius to predict that "Manifest" is definitely going to contain lots of massive, sugary choruses, the first eruption of riffs at the beginning of "Fearless" still takes the breath away. Continually (and wrongly) associated with the symphonic metal world, AMARANTHE have always taken an entirely different approach than their supposed peers. Particularly since the pop-metal perfection of 2014's "Massive Addictive", they have cranked up the heaviness and crunch of the riffs, plunging ever deeper into the mesmerizing refrains of modern pop, albeit modern pop via 30 years of bright-eyed power metal. And with three superb vocalists leading the charge — the much celebrated Elize Ryd, barbaric growler Henrik Englund Wilhemsson and, since 2017, DYNAZTY frontman Nils Molin — the band's sixth studio album noisily restates how singular and lethally effective AMARANTHE have become.
It's all about the enormous tunes, of course, and with Ryd and Molin delivering melodies with unnerving levels of conviction and charisma, even the most simplistic moments hit the target. You will have already heard singles "Do Or Die" (here shorn of ex-ARCH ENEMY icon ANGELA GOSSOW's contribution, but that version appears as a bonus track), "Viral", "Archangel" and, most gloriously, "Strong", which features a guest appearance from BATTLE BEAST's Noora Louhimo confirming that she is the greatest female heavy metal vocalist on the planet, while also sounding like a long-lost smash from the '80s, twinkling synths included.
Everything here sounds futuristic, polished to a blinding gleam and purposefully much more aggressive and muscular than bands operating in this nebulous sphere generally attempt. AMARANTHE are frequently brutal: the cheerily titled "Boom!" features some of the gnarliest riffs you will ever hear on a shiny, mainstream metal release; "Adrenaline" kicks off like some BABYMETAL riff riot, but the Japanese scamps never squeezed as much soul or drama out of such seemingly plastic sonics. It's Molin's voice, in particular, which seems to be enabling AMARANTHE to expand their remit without sacrificing any of the directness or melodic bite that has typified their catalogue to date. Slow-burning ballad "Crystalline" provides a pointedly sumptuous backdrop for his talents. Meanwhile, Ryd has never sung better than she does throughout "Manifest", and chief composer Olof Mörck has stepped up. With very few exceptions, these are all among the finest songs that the Swedish band have conjured to date.
Of course, if you can't tolerate this much sugar in one serving, there are many grimier bands to listen to instead. But don't be fooled: AMARANTHE fucking slay, and those tunes are, if you're truly honest with yourself, pretty damn catchy.