This sixth album from Finland's Battle Beast didn't top any best of 2022 lists, though it did make it onto one of them, Metal Kingdom's Best Metal Albums of 2022, at a not unrespectable 11th, but I missed it a year ago and didn't want to let it slip by me entirely before I draw a line on 2022 and go full on dedicated to 2023. I liked the fifth album they put out in 2019, No More Hollywood Endings, or, more accurately, I liked a lot of it a lot. It started out well and it wrapped up well, with a bunch of outstanding songs at each end, but there was also lots of filler in between them and the vision of the band seemed to be all over the map. I wanted to find out if that was an anomaly or a norm.
And, based on this, I'm happy to suggest that it was an anomaly. This one is far more consistent in approach and I was especially happy to hear Noora Louhimo's voice dropped a little in the mix. It's not that I don't want to hear, because she's an outstanding vocalist. It's that she's so outstanding that she doesn't need to be out there in front as if this is a solo project, as it was last time out. On this album, she has to fight more for dominance and she's more than up to that task. Fortunately, so are the musicians behind her, starting with Pyry Vikki's drums, because the beat on the opener is just as emphatic as Louhimo's voice and it stays there throughout.
And it's not just him, because that opener is a very theatrical title track, appropriately given the subject matter. There are plenty of flourishes in the musical backdrop to keep us paying attention to everyone. Circuses are theatres in their way and this song is just as bombastic as the circus that it brings to life. It's a glorious opener, from its musical box intro through an initial vicious chug to the Flight of the Bumblebee style buzz and onward through the curtain into the ring, where we're treated to quite the show.
Wings of Light begins with a killer scream from Louihimo but also a guitar flourish. It isn't close to the opener in theatricality but it's just as emphatic. Master of Illusion kicks off with another huge vocal moment, so there's a clear trend in play. Those drums are in our face too and the guitars on Where Angels Fear to Fly refuse to leave us alone, even when they drop away during the verses. As the song moves towards its close, guitars and voice almost duet, like a game of tag with one doing its thing and handing to the other and so on.
I like all these little touches, Russian Roulette as full of them as Circus of Doom, with an intricate intro and outrageous late section on top of the flourishes during the song, but I honestly believe that Eye of the Storm is my favourite song here and that one plays it straight. It really doesn't do anything fancy until a brief and subtle outro but it's quintessentially urgent. Whatever defences we have left after the assault of the first four songs, it barrels right through them and bludgeons us into submission. It's content to just do the business for four minutes and twenty-six seconds.
Back to Russian Roulette though, I get the feeling that, as powerful as this song is, this could be a pop or even a dance number, something that might be at home at the Eurovision Song Contest in an utterly different presentation. I'd love to hear a pop cover of this to see how it works. Here, it's a heavy/power metal song and not a wimpy one in the slightest, but I bet it would play really well with completely different filters: keyboards instead of guitars, a soft voice instead of an emphatic one, pulses instead of rock drums. Someone cover this as a disco song, please!
If there's a downside, it's that the album doesn't end as strongly as it started but the second side isn't filler. These are good songs, just not quite as good as the ones before them. If they'd moved one of the killers, say Where Angels Fear to Fly, to the end, maybe I wouldn't have been seen it at all. And that means that either this is a big step up for them, which I doubt given the acclaim they have garnered throughout their career, or that last album was a step down they've addressed.