It came with an overpowering snap of the neck, an unexpected bolt-gun blast to the brain. Years of establishing themselves as one of establishing themselves as one of Sweden’s premier speed metal acts – riding a perpetual wave of spine-breaking licks and frenetic energy – almost demolished in one seemingly crazy act involving, of all things, that stadium-rock drum sound. With eyes bursting and cochleas disintegrating in utter confusion, it fundamentally seemed like the end. But you know what? As commercially-accessible and as outright a middle finger it seemed at first, ‘Die for the Devil’ simply works; and this lowly writer just cannot comprehend why. And as Enforcer’s fifth outing Zenith continues from this moment of insanity, its puzzling charm unravels before all; a beacon of light, of hope, shines long into the night.
On paper, Zenith shouldn’t work. Though not a total detour from a sound they’ve built on since their first demo landed back in ’05 the album is by far the band’s most “mainstream”-sounding one to date, a monument carved out with an early ’80s hard-rock sound infused with enough power metal pomposity to keep evil at bay whilst not venturing into cheesy territory. It harks back to a time of the first Dio records, a time when rock bands were filling huge venues and invading the radio airwaves en masse. This is that record, the one hurtling a band on a star-bound trajectory many dream about; at least, it would have been in the glorious decade (but who knows right?). It has such a corruptive power but Enforcer own it: the songwriting is, for the most part, heavenly and is executed with so much heart it’s infectious; capturing and harnessing the spirit of the music with nothing but adoration is something the band has done so well in the past. Now? They just excel. What is most surprising however is how unbelievably huge this record sounds: they’ve aimed high with this and have largely delivered on such a triumphant scale.
It’s almost sickening just how catchy some of these songs are. The aforementioned ‘Die for the Devil’ and second single ‘Searching For You’ are precisely that: singles, the kind you’d here on the radio. Though they don’t exactly to live up to the dynamism found riddled throughout Zenith (the chorus for the latter lets it down) they truly capture its spirit, one which is truly rock’n’roll. ‘Zenith for the Black Sun’ has a potent ‘Holy Diver’ vibe running throughout and hair-raising ballad (yes, a ballad) ‘Regrets’ again should not work but it absolutely does, with the vocal harmonies, perfected throughout the record by Olof Wikstrand, elevating this even further. From here on out though it’s one electrifying hit after another: ‘The End of a Universe’, ‘Forever We Worship The Dark’ and the goosebump-inducing ‘One Thousand Years of Darkness’ never fail to leave one hell of a beaming smile! New guitarist Jonathan Nordwall is also a perfect accompaniment to Wikstrand here, stepping in to the huge shoes left behind by Joseph Tholl, filling them and then some. Want something explosive? Wait until the closer hits. Strong While Heaven Wept vibes circa Fear of Infinity…
Admittedly it has taking some time to warm to this record but boy is this writer glad he stuck around long enough for it to cast its spell on him. It’s energy is beyond contagious and the stay implanted in memory for far too long afterwards. Catchiness isn’t always a sign of a really good record but it absolutely works here. Aside from a couple of weaker songs it’s one of the more wholly enjoyable records to come out of 2019 (once you get adjusted to the huge contrast in sound); even the token pure speed metal ‘Thunder and Hell’ is a blast but not the centrepiece – that honour goes to ‘…Darkness’ and ‘…the Dark’. It’s coming out just in time for festival season too and will no doubt sound just as huge on stage! Yes it’s widely different, yes it’s going to appeal to a far wider audience; don’t be such a sourpuss (like I was) and surrender to its almighty power!