Style: Heavy Metal
Release Date: 22 Mar 2019
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I've heard Finland's Battle Beast before and this fifth album is pretty much what I'd expect from them, which is to say that it has plenty of power and even more melody and the two combine to provide something with serious bombast and bravado. It's happy music, uplifting and catchy and easy to both listen to and sing along to, even if you don't know the words. Now, that's partly because you might think you have heard it before, way back in the eighties, merely without production anywhere near this quality.
It opens very well. Unbroken is a story song with a real punch to it, both from the lyrics and the music. Vocalist Noora Louhimo emphatically makes her presence known immediately, as if the band behind her are working for her rather than playing with her. The musicians are all capable but the vocals are high in the mix, as if this was a solo release, and it often feels like the band are supporting rather than accompanying. It continues well too, for a few songs. The title track has a Sabaton-like swagger. Eden shines with a notably catchy chorus.
So far, this has been solid heavy metal, not always original but still good stuff nonetheless. It occasionally reminded me of Lita Ford, if she had been European and landed a job singing for a power metal band. The comparisons change with the tracks though and they're not all expected. For instance, Endless Summer sounds more like a Bryan Adams song made a lot heavier. It's lesser material, with a bunch of hoo hey yeah vocal moments that suggest that, for one song only, lyrics aren't important and the band just couldn't be bothered to tailor them to the music. I Wish thinks it's a James Bond theme, of all things, with all its associated orchestration.
In fact, the whole middle of the album sounds odd to me. I applaud variety but there needs to be a vision behind it and I can't figure out what vision Battle Beast have here. The songs aren't different enough to suggest a wild exploration like, say, Queen had on Sheer Heart Attack. However, they're not similar enough to identify what the band actually think is their sound. Are there hints of Celtic folk behind Raise Your Fists?
I should emphasise that none of these songs are bad. Some are cheesy and some are derivative but none of them are bad, per se. Maybe the Casio keyboards and electronic drums and sirens and whatnot that show up in the intros to Unfairy Tales, Endless Summer and Piece of Me are part of an eighties throwback mentality, but none of these songs needed any of that.
The Golden Horde is the first track that really grabbed my attention back to Battle Beast being Battle Beast. There's power to the music here, not just in Louhimo's voice. The verses are catchy, the chorus is a killer and those eighties keyboards in the intro quickly give way to the most vicious guitar anywhere to be heard here. This song feels as much like a real band as the previous half dozen songs didn't. The musicians push Louhimo and, well, she pushes right back and everything helps to elevate the track.
If The Golden Horde is easily the best song on the album, it's also a fresh start too. There's some real life in what's still to come to suggest that the band is actually starting to enjoy itself. World on Fire is softer and quieter but also wildly catchy and it deserves to be all over the airwaves. Two and a half minutes into Bent and Broken, Louhimo ratchets up the power with emphasis. She's truly magnificent here and, every time we think she's hit her peak, she frickin' goes beyond it just because.
That leaves My Last Dream. If the band were having fun on The Golden Horde, they're having a riot on this one. They venture into glam and punk territories and, at points, this sounds as much like Hanoi Rocks as it does Sonata Arctica. It has attitude to spare, with Louhimo channeling some Wendy O. Williams and the band kicking it like they're jamming with a bunch of punks in a pub.
I'd agree with the concept of No More Hollywood Endings, but I think we're in need of more Battle Beast endings. This kicks off with three solid songs and ends with four killer tracks for almost half an hour's worth of wonderful material. The downside is that, in between, there are six other tracks that just don't live up to the rest.
Crop that half dozen out and you'd have a very memorable mini-album. Crop a few and you'd still have a strong album. As it is, it's a mixed bag. I can see the pessimists calling it a disappointment, highlights notwithstanding. I can also see the optimists eagerly anticipating the band's sixth album, because an album that does what the last four tracks here do over the full length is going to slay.
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