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I've got the Guts to fight the fight - 83%

BastardHead, February 10th, 2019

I've been a pretty vocal defender of Battle Beast for years now, but I've never actually put it all into a real review until today. I think the weird thing about my fandom of the band is that I really don't seem to like them all that much. I have more complaints about the band in general than I do praises, but for some reason I find myself listening to them all the fucking time. With their fifth album coming out later this year, and the fact that I've spent the last few days glued to my TV playing Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, I feel like this is as good a time as any to cover my favorite release, their self titled album from 2013.

To get the bad shit out of the way first, the band has, from day one, always been as shallow as an inflatable kiddie pool and about exactly as cheap. There are no surprises on any album, and their strict adherence to pop structuring can make it tiring to sit through entire albums. They are very Sabaton-esque in riffs being the secondary focus by a transdimensional mile to the melodies. The guitars barely matter here, it's all about the keyboard melodies and the vocals, and both are focused around doofy arena pop and that can be a huge turnoff for a lot of people. The vocals can get to be grating at times as well, though they usually take center stage for a reason. Nitte Valo had a lot of excellent grit in her voice, and ever since her departure and replacement by Noora Louhimo they've taken a shift towards the more melodic side of things, which Noora excels at, but when she tries to do the more Valo-ish screams she just sounds like she's doing a growly parody of a bad metal singer. This album has a great example with "Let It Roar", where the chorus sounds like a literal child screaming impotently about whatever the hell it is that kids scream about.

As for the good stuff, well... it's basically all the same stuff. Sabaton may suck at formulaic pop metal but Battle Beast absolutely fucking kills it. Guitarist Anton Kabanen is the sole songwriter an lyricist, so for all intents and purposes Battle Beast is a solo project with five extra cronies doing his bidding (at least up through Unholy Savior, at which point he was kicked out of his own band and went on to form Beast in Black, which is... just the same fucking band with different members). If his body of work is anything to go by, he is a man of very limited interests. Every single song he writes combines exactly two broad influences: 80s arena metal like Judas Priest or Accept and 80s popular music as a broad spectrum. Every single lyric he's ever written is based on sci-fi novels, hopelessly vague 80s cliches like love and rebellion, and the ultraviolent anime from 1997, Berserk. I say the anime and not the manga because throughout his career between his two bands, he's only ever touched on the Golden Age arc that the anime covers, when the manga it's based on has been running continuously for like 28 fucking years and has way more material to draw from. Not really a problem per se, but it shows his hand a bit and would allow for more self-serious geeks to gatekeep the dude. I've tried reading it myself and that shit is so dense that I don't blame the dude for struggling to get past the first ten trillion pages.

I highlight the narrow focus because I can easily see how it could be a problem for some, but frankly I think this allows the band to attack with a laser-fine point and it works to their advantage here. It starts with a bit of a stumble with "Let It Roar" but after that it just hits like a dozen tracks in a row of Billy-Idol-meets-Screaming-for-Vengeance goodness and it's a fuckin' riot. Anton is the main man here, but he's not stupid, he knows Noora is the highlight. She's a twelve foot tall Amazonian valkyrie with lungs of leather and unlimited attitude and you'd be an absolute fool to bury her beneath your synthy cheese instead of letting her stand on top of it and scream it at the listeners with a million times galeforce ten. She commands the hell out of tracks like "Machine Revolution", "Raven", and "Black Ninja". She gets comparisons to Doro a lot simply for the fact that she's a woman and sings with a lot of power instead of trying to sound "pretty", but that's really not quite accurate. I mentioned Priest and Accept up there because she really does sound like if Udo had Halford's range when she's belting out at max power. Just listen to the best track on display, "Fight, Kill, Die". She not only opens it with the Wilhelm Scream of Metal (not coincidentally used by both of the main metal influences on "Fast as a Shark" and "Ram It Down") but she somehow maintains that manic intensity throughout the runtime, closing on one of the most bombastically triumphant out-choruses of the decade. She really was the best possible replacement for Valo, without a doubt.

I wish I could describe the music beyond what I've already said, but it's hard considering how shallow it is. Namedropping Billy Idol wasn't random. I fucking love Billy Idol in his prime and Battle Beast, whether knowingly or not, kind of carries the legacy from the Rebel Yell era. Idol was pure pop with a punk edge/attitude and Battle Beast does the same with with a metal attitude. They mostly stick to a palatable mid pace but load each and every song with the biggest god damned choruses they can manage, and that's really where the pop influence shines the brightest. Try to deny the sheer over the top ridiculousness of "Black Ninja". That's really just all this is, 80s pop music with metal riffs, loads of solos, and mega dorky synths. This is probably the reason that "Fight, Kill, Die" stands out so much. It's by far the most overtly metal song on the album, cranking the tempo up to its peak and packing in more riffs-per-square-minute than anywhere else. As much as I love the pure pop cheese of "Out on the Streets", it just doesn't hold a candle to the searing metal assaults of "Machine Revolution" and "Fight, Kill, Die".

I think that's why Battle Beast stands out so much compared to their biggest contemporary, Sabaton. Not only are the hooks just way better in general, but small things like having a vocalist who actually kicks ass and a few scattered undeniably metal tracks here and there really help add some true identity to the synth-laden bounciness that dominates both bands. The actual depth it adds is almost negligible, but it does help it from wearing out its welcome (this has become the band's biggest problem in recent years). This isn't a perfect album by any means. Some songs are just completely inconsequential (who the hell even remembers "Over the Top" or "Into the Heart of Danger"?) and even the good songs repeat themselves within a few minutes of each other ("Raven" and "Rain Man" use literally the exact same chorus hook), but overall this damn stupid album is just a really fun romp and I can't get enough of it. Fight me.

Originally written for Lair of the Bastard