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Whatever the cause of the schism that led to most of Skiltron’s line-up defecting to form the sound-a-like Triddana, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for them as they had really nailed their celtic power/speed metal sound on ‘The highland way’ and looked like they starting to build serious momentum.
While Triddana took no time at all in getting a CD out and establishing themselves, founders Emilo Souto and Matias Pena instead took the low road in gradually rebuilding the band, in the end recording ‘Into the battleground’ with bassist Nacho Lopez as the only new permanent member.
Using a series of session musicians to fill out the recording line-up is nothing new to Skiltron, but was still a bit of a gamble as their 2nd and 3rd CDs, recorded with full band line-ups, were far more solid and unified than the guest-heavy debut. The end result is very impressive though, as the CD manages to both feel consistent and firm while at the same time making use of the looseness that comes from having a few different vocalists to give a bit of additional variety that is most welcome after several releases in the same style.
Despite Juan Jose Fornes’ growing importance to Skiltron as a songwriter, the biggest boots to fill were naturally those of giant vocalist Diego Valdez, whose melodic roar had become central to the Skiltron style. My xenophobic little hackles were initially all abristle at the prospect of an Englishman fronting Agentina’s premier Scottish history metal act, but however unlikely his involvement may seem, hard rock veteran Tony Thurlow in the end fits Skiltron’s sound like a glove.
Thurlow takes the lead on most of the songs, and his velveteen, Dio-like voice is not only a good match for that of his predecessor, but a powerful weapon in its own right. He handles himself brilliantly on the faster, heavier songs, but also shows a deftness of touch on more restrained efforts like the mid-paced highlight “On the trail of David Ross”.
While Thurlow’s dominant presence helps to hold the CD together, further guest vocal spots happen to occur on 2 of the CD’s stronger tracks. A nice touch is the return of ‘The clans have united’ vocalist Javier Yuchechen on the excellent “Loyal we will stand”, a dramatic pounder with possibly the best use of the bagpipes on the whole CD. In truth, despite performing admirably, Yuchechen’s presence is not really essential to the song, though the same can’t be said of another returning guest on “The rabbit who wanted to be a wolf”. Korpiklaani’s Jonne Jarvela’s gravely, dreamy vocals sidle along perfectly with the unusual, almost country-like twang of this latter day folk tale and help make it all the more unusual and hypnotically memorable.
Generally though, Souto and Pena have stuck to both what they know and what is expected, with the bulk of the CD being made up of rampant, bagpipe-accented power metal. The only real misfire comes in the form of the mishandled “Besieged by fire”, which has a pretty fierce speed/thrash main riff, but feels a little out of place without any traditional instrumentation or folk melodies and is properly sunk by the out of place, hardcore-ish vocals of Javier Compiano.
This pitfall aside, ‘Into the battleground’ defies the odds to not only be another rock-solid Skiltron CD, but one that even sees them daring to shake up the formula a little while rebuilding themselves from the ground up at the same time. It’s a great achievement in its own right, and also sees them 4 for 4 with no signs of slowing down.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)