Let's get the disclaimer out of the way now: cover albums are never essential. They can be fun diversions to tide fans over until the release of a proper record, and a good insight into the musical tastes of the bands delivering the record. Anyone visiting this site would not be shocked that their favorite metal acts also like IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST, but the real fun when a metal band releases an album of covers is when secret pop music loves are exposed. But at the end of the day, no one's discography is bolstered by a covers release.
By the nature of it being a compilation of covers released throughout ARCH ENEMY's lengthy career as single b-sides, EP filler and Japanese bonus tracks, there is a little more to recommend "Covered In Blood" over the usual cover releases, which are usually released by a band that goes into the studio for a few days to crank one out. For starters, you no longer have to search out every single release variant to find every cover the band has ever done. But most importantly, all eras of ARCH ENEMY are represented. Whether you are a new-school fan that found ARCH ENEMY during current vocalist Alissa White-Gluz's stint leading the band, tore it up in the pit at Ozzfest second stage while Angela Gossow handled lead screams, or are an old-timer who thinks they haven't done a good record since Johan Liiva departed early into the band's run, your favorite era of the group is on display. And because of that, the band's delivery of the cover selections ends up being a fun way to chart the confidence of the band in its sound as the group's career progressed, despite being presented in reverse chronological order.
The covers recorded during the early days of the band's career see the unit playing with some heavy metal standards such as "Aces High" and "Symphony Of Destruction". Outside of some faster-paced orchestration, added blast beats and a slightly dirtier guitar tone from Michael and Christopher Amott, there are few surprises, both with choice and delivery of the covers chosen. As ARCH ENEMY's career evolves, the choices for covers gets a little more adventurous. While, again, covers of tracks such as "The Oath" and "The Zoo" are slightly beefed up and hyper-charged, the choice of source material makes for a fun final output when filtered through ARCH ENEMY's coating of crunchy rhythm riffs, shredding solos and Gossow's guttural growls. There are also some fun nods to the band's extended family in the back half of the record. Most notably a fairly traditional cover of "Incarnated Solvent Abuse", from Amott's days in genre pioneers CARCASS, and a ferocious cover of "The Book of Heavy Metal" in a nod to former live guitarist Gus G. 's time in DREAM EVIL.
The record's real experimentation comes during the first half of the track sequencing, all from the current ARCH ENEMY lineup. Though the band does not mess with the orchestration of the eight '80s hardcore covers in a row–obviously the guitar performances from Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis are way more competent than anyone that performed on the original tracks–the opening four tracks of "Covered In Blood" are the most interesting tracks for fans to dig into. The group cracks the code of "Shout", by '80s pop greats TEARS FOR FEARS, by opening with a riff sequence reminiscent of LED ZEPPELIN's "Immigrant Song", and layering in a traditional delivery of the chorus underneath White-Gluz's growls. MIKE OLDFIELD's 1983 synth-rock hit "Shadow On The Wall" is reimagined as an industrial-metal dirge. It would have been easy, and lazy, for ARCH ENEMY to do a traditional cover of JUDAS PRIEST's "Breaking The Law", but instead they go for a mid-tempo crunch approach to the intro and choruses of the tracks, reserving the speed for the verses.
In a way, it may have been a mistake to sequence the record in reverse chronological order as the most interesting cover variants are front-loaded, though one can see the logic in starting everything off to make "Covered In Blood" an easier experience to get into for modern-era ARCH ENEMY fans. But for longtime fans of both ARCH ENEMY and the heavy metal genre, the remainder of the compilation will still be crowd pleasing. It's not an important release that needs to be sought out urgently, but the little peaks at the evolution of the band's lineup still makes "Covered In Blood" a fun little curio for completists.