Battlesoul. What does that band name conjure up for you? Straight up, Sabaton-esque battle metal? Folky, Viking-y metal, Amon Amarth style? Lord of the Rings? Angry, shouty men in kilts? None of the above? All?
In fact, any of those answers is at least partly correct. For Battlesoul are that most modern of heavy metal bands: genre-straddlers, who delight in taking bits of this and that, like metal magpies, and creating something that’s actually rather fascinating.
Formed in 2007 in London, Canada by ex-Heaven Ablaze guitarist Mike Grund and ex-Whitechapel drummer Nich Ireland (who also drums for Viking metallers SIG:AR:TYR, fact fans), they then took on vocalist Jon Doyle, bassist Bill Elliot and guitarist (and brother of Nich) Thomas Ireland.
Their lineup complete, they released a self-titled EP in 2008, followed by full lengths Lay Down Thy Burdens in 2010 and Tir na nOg in 2013.
Their latest effort, Sunward and Starward, is due for release on February 23rd on CDN Records.
Eagle eyed history buffs will note the Irish title of their 2013 album: Tir na nOg, or ‘land of the young’, is an Irish legend from many years ago. It’s a good indicator of what Battlesoul are about, too, as their lyrics heavily feature celtic myths and legends, particularly those that sprang from battles, warriors, travelling to distant lands and possibly not returning, and so on.
What makes them stand out is their disregard for staying within subgenre boundaries; on previous releases and this latest album, they gleefully throw death metal, blackened death metal, thrash, battle metal, folk metal and celtic metal into their personal melting pot. The result really must be heard to be understood/believed.
The album opens with ‘All I Understand’, which hits the ground running at a blistering pace and with some surprisingly clean singing. The occasional twin guitar harmonies lend the track a power metal feel, while the switched up falsetto vocals and echoing vocals in the chorus kind of feel a bit proggy. See? They also throw a celtic-sounding wind instrument into the mix, because why not?
And so the album goes on, loosely following a pattern: bold, riff-heavy intro, death metal style vocals (but also sometimes black metal style, sometimes thrash, and sometimes clean – at times Doyle sounds like three singers at once), often with some gorgeous operatic style singing from classical vocalist Alina Gavrilenko. Each track is breathtakingly fast-paced, with widdling guitars aplenty and the sort of double-bass drumming that leaves one exhausted just listening to it.
In fact, almost every song starts with a rowdy sonic blast, all bolshy drums and thrashy, impudent riffs. The only ones that show a bit more decorum are the final two numbers: ‘So It Goes’, which draws the listener in with a melancholy string intro then slams into a thudding beat and positive riff-fest of straight up thrashy death metal. Then there’s final track ‘Break the Day’, with its quietly majestic folky intro, breakneck pace, blazing guitar solo and, finally, a sort of ‘rides off into the sunset’ thrashy/folky outro. It’s all a bit bewildering but well and truly keeps the listener engaged and entertained.
Throughout, there are some noticeable highlights: the mystical, ‘warrior’ vibe of ‘Arrival’; the particularly impressive drumming in ‘The Watcher’; the use of unusual instruments such as a piccolo-type wind instrument and a stringed instrument of some kind that almost sounds like a flute (listen to the thrashy ‘Totem’ for an example of this); the pendulously heavy, galloping ‘The Loss of Sons’.
Amongst those, there are further few which stand tallest: the epic (in every sense of the word) title track, with moments of light and shade cunningly pieced together and a creepy, almost shudder-inducing ‘internal monologue’ outro, and the aforementioned closing track ‘Break the Day’, which deviates from their ‘million miles an hour’ philosophy for just a few moments.
Far from being ‘just’ a battle metal band, with Skyward and Starward Battlesoul have demonstrated yet again that they are master boundary pushers, musically speaking. By cleverly combining several metal subgenres – folk, power, thrash, death, celtic - they are well on their way to creating an entirely new one for themselves. ‘Battlesoul metal’? Well, you just never know. You read it here first…
Review by Melanie Brehaut