Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: Battlelore - Doombound (2011)

Battlelore [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]

Doombound, the sixth full-length from Finland's Battlelore, is the perfect example of how an album can fall victim to a misguided media campaign. Billed by the label as "extreme, epic fantasy metal", most of the press Doombound has thus far received has been fixated on the fact that such a description is a stretch - at best. In order to understand what Doombound is, and is not, the label-fed categorization must be thrown aside and the music given a chance to speak for itself. The album is a bit epic, a bit extreme, somewhat fantastical, but mostly it's solid (albeit familiar) dark power metal with alternating male and female vocals. Battlelore can therefore be easily lost in a crowd of similar-sounding bands, with Lacuna Coil and Leave's Eyes quickly coming to mind, but a couple of aspects to the band's sound set the Finns slightly apart.

Formed more than a decade ago, the septet has consistently refined their sound with each release. Having lyrics based entirely upon J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, though deliberately not referring to names and locales, you could definitely say that there's a fantasy element to Battlelore's music. Doombound is a concept album inspired by the obscure Tolkien character Túrin Turambar, which Tolkien himself based on Kullervo, a personality from Finnish folklore. In addition to the subject matter, the abundant use of keyboards - courtesy of Maria Honkanen - also helps build a magical, sometimes epic, atmosphere. Like other dark, Gothic power metal bands, Battlelore places just as much emphasis on keyboard contributions as they do on the guitars. At times, such as during "Last Of The Lords", the keys take center stage and all but bury the fretwork of Jussi Rautio and Jyri Vahvanen. Apart from those few instances, the two axemen craft riffs that aren't necessarily jaw-dropping but still manage to keep things interesting. The latter half of "Kärmessurma", for example, features a groovy little riff accompanied by cello and keys. This particular bit of songwriting, and the fact that the song is sung entirely in the band's native language, sets "Kärmessurma" as one of the more interesting points of Doombound.

With some interesting riffs and lush keyboards as a foundation, Doombound is musically a fairly satisfying listen. Vocally, however, Battlelore manages to reach both ends of the quality spectrum. Indonesian-born chanteuse Kaisa Jouhki, with a style quite similar to that of Liv Kristine, is surprisingly good. "Enchanted" is a mid-paced track where she performs the lion's share of the vocal duties and, if you didn't know better, sounds very much like a Leaves' Eyes song. The majority of the songs on Doombound feature Kaisa to one degree or another, which is good, but the wheels fall off nearly every time frontman Tomi Mykkänen steps up to the mic. He tries to offset Kaisa's soothing voice with a gruff, sinister style in order to harness an "extreme" aspect but usually ends up sounding simply horrible. Tracks like "Bloodstained", "Bow and Helm", and "Last Of The Lords" suffer terribly form Mykkänen's off-key efforts. "Olden Gods" finds his voice a little more steady and a lot less distracting, but Rautio and Vahvanen introduce some melo-death breakdowns that could otherwise have been left off the album entirely.

I really wanted to like Doombound because I think it has been getting a bum rap. Everything I discovered that I liked about it was, however, usually countered by Mykkänen's vocals or some ill-advised metalcore buffoonery. Kaisa Jouhki is the real deal, and there are some rather fantastic moments of atmosphere to be heard here, but until those aforementioned anchors can be weighed Battlelore is doomed to languish as an also-ran of the power metal genre.

Track Listing
2Iron Of Death4:45
3Bow And Helm3:58
6Olden Gods4:23
7Fate Of The Betrayed5:09
8Men As Wolves4:40
9Last Of The Lords5:45
Total Runtime54:24

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