Friday, 17 March 2017

Battle Beast's 'Bringer of Pain' - Album Review

Finland has long been a real hotbed of melodic metal, with legends of the power metal genre Stratovarius originally flying the flag when forming in 1984. Since then many great bands have come out of the country, with bands like Nightwish, HIM, Children of Bodom, and Sonata Arctica (among many others) receiving mainstream attention and becoming great exports for the country's music and culture. Battle Beast are one of many melodic metal bands from Finland that are currently out there treading the boards, but they are one that is receiving quite a bit of attention. They have been around since 2008, but only really became known outside of Finland with the release of their second album, simply titled Battle Beast, in 2013. The band's debut album Steel, released in 2011, was initially only available in Finland until the giant metal label Nuclear Blast signed the band up and Steel was reissued worldwide. Battle Beast as we know them however have been around since 2012, which was when current frontwoman Noora Louhimo joined the band. Her larger-than-life image and personality has been the band's focus ever since, and her extremely diverse and powerful voice is a big part of what makes Battle Beast so appealing. From her Doro-esque rasps to her more poppy melodies, Louhimo is one of the most interesting and unique vocalists in metal currently; and it is her performances that make Battle Beast, and the 2015 follow up Unholy Savior, such powerful listens. Despite all this Bringer of Pain, the band's new fourth album, was definitely a make or break release for Battle Beast. The band's founding member and guitarist Anton Kabanen, who was solely credited for writing every single song on the band's first three albums, left the band in 2015. Many were quick to write the band off after this, and you can understand why. There are not many bands who can survive the departure of their principle songwriter (Uriah Heep springs to mind after Ken Hensley's departure but there are not many bands that can claim that), but somehow Battle Beast have managed it by really pulling together. You get the impression that this album has been a real team effort by the band, with writing credits shared out between five of the six band members and everyone really bringing something to the table. Joining Louhimo are original members guitarist Juuso Soinio, bassist Eero Sipilä, keyboardist Janne Björkroth (who also produced the album), and drummer Pyry Vikki. Joona Björkroth, brother of Janne, officially joined the band in place of Kabanen last year and ensures Battle Beast remain a six-piece. Fans of the band will note that Bringer of Pain is not a massive departure from the band's established sound; with songs either falling into the up-tempo Judas Priest-esque metal category, or the more mid-paced 1980s AOR-influenced hard rock category. The band does both styles well, and the mix of the two vibes ensures the album remains interesting throughout with a few twists and turns despite a strong overall identity.

Battle Beast waste no time getting things underway, and the crunchy hard rock of Straight to the Heart is the perfect opening for this melodic and fun album. A simple, dry guitar riff drives the song but it is the keyboard backing, akin to 1980s Journey, that adds the sparkle. It is a strong mid-paced melodic rocker which channels Steinman-esque grandeur with great classic rock swagger. Louhimo i the star of the song and her gritty voice really drives the simple verses, before really coming alive in the anthemic choruses with their driving piano backing. The album's title track follows, and this is much heavier with a riff straight out of the NWOBHM songbook and a great wordless vocal opening which Louhimo a chance to show off her diverse vocal range with ease. The simple, gang vocal driven chorus brings to mind classic Accept. This is probably the album's heaviest song, and features a great display of power metal drumming from Vikki with precise double bass patterns and a strong sense of groove throughout. In classic 1980s tradition, the final chorus sees a dramatic key change which suits Louhimo's diversity perfectly. King for a Day, the album's first single, is more of a hard rock song but it really packs a punch. Sipilä's bassline drives the verses, which follows on for a simple guitar riff, but again it is Louhimo who dominates with a theatrical display. Not to be outdone, the band's two guitarists add plenty of subtle lead licks throughout which help to add melody and technical skill throughout what is at it's a core a very simple song. A synth solo replaces the traditional guitar solo part-way through, which really helps to emphasise that AOR vibe that hangs over the entire album. Beyond the Burning Skies is another heavy one, but it opens with a delicate piano intro that brings fellow Finns Sonata Arctica to mind. It soon explodes into another crunching guitar riff that is sure to see more than a few heads bobbing when it is played live. The keyboards provide that perfect melodic halo once again, which does take some of the metal 'edge' from the song but it helps to transport the listener back to the 1980s, which is what I feel Battle Beast seem to want to do! The chorus is one of the album's best too, with a fantastic soaring melody that just begs to be sung. Familiar Hell, another of the album's singles, is a sickeningly catchy song which has more than a little influence from 1980s disco music, but it just fits in so well with the band's simple riffing and the gritty vocals of Louhimo. This is the sort of music I can imagine Grace Jones making if she suddenly turned into a metalhead, as this song is one that you can really dance to. The chorus is a very catchy one too, with sugary vocal melodies a layers of keyboards which just ooze out of the speakers with ease. This is one of those songs that I am sure will have many metalheads scratching their heads and questioning their 'defence of the faith' - it is that catchy!

Lost in Wars sees the band doing something a bit different from the norm, and sees Battle Beast employing some almost-industrial influences throughout with a variety of synth tones and a lumbering Rob Zombie-esque stomp in the riffs. Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) provides his distinctive mournful, but powerful vocals, to the song and he duets well with Louhimo. Silly spoken word parts, soaring melodic cleans, and even the odd burst of his crushing harsh vocals give the song a unique identity and makes it stand out from anything else in the band's catalogue. It is not as instantly catchy as many of their songs, but the haunting melodies and enveloping synths will get under your skin after a few listens. Bastard Son of Odin is another up-tempo metal tune, but with some of the cheesiest keyboard sounds heard for some time! The mix of these, along with a strong galloping guitar riff, are a great contrast and this is one song where the two sides of the band really seem to mesh together perfectly. Another strong chorus proves to be the song's centre point, but it is let down by some rather awful lyrics. In fairness, nothing that Battle Beast writes could be considered poetry, but this one is particularly bad! A shredding guitar solo, which is lengthy for the band's concise standards, is another highlight too and shows that the band members are probably better musicians than many would give them credit for. We Will Fight is easily the album's least-interesting song and is one that just seems to pass by without leaving much of an impression. It is not a bad song per se, it just shows there are much stronger songs elsewhere on this disc. It is a bit of a plodding number and never really gets going. Dancing with the Beast is fantastic however and might just be my favourite song on the album. It has a similar disco vibe to Familiar Hell, but ramped up even more with even more of a pop influence. Not the modern pop influence that Amaranthe promote, but Bad Animals-era Heart with a massive 1980s influence with a rhythmic feel and synthetic-sounding drums. Layers of synths dominate, but again a few guitar leads are thrown in to remind you that are indeed listening to a heavy metal record! The chorus is fantastic too, and I see this song becoming a staple and a favourite of their live sets. Far From Heaven, the album's closing number, is a proper lighters-in-the-air power ballad which I expect Bonnie Tyler would do a fantastic cover of! It is piano driven, but it one of those songs that builds up as it goes along and ends in a heavier climax with Louhimo's gritty, but soaring, vocals really gripping hold and refusing to let go. For such an upbeat album, it may seem odd to end on a ballad, but I think it works really well. The ballad also suits the vibe of the album too, as many of the best 1980s rock/metal albums would have included at least one power ballad! Overall, Bringer of Pain is another solid entry in the band's strong discography and shows that Battle Beast is more than just a vehicle for one man's songwriting. The 1980s vibe has been pushed even further here, and I suspect we shall see more of this in the future!

The album was released on 17th February 2017 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for King for a Day.

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