Another departure from whatever usual might be this week. This album was on sale (in cassette form) at a local record shop, and I bought it with no real preconception of its contents. I had heard one Battle Beast track in a promo for the city of Tampere, of all things, but had never explored the band’s discography further.
On top of that I’m not a big fan of power metal, and didn’t plan to review much of it here. Luckily, Battle Beast have definitely started to lean into pop-rock with their flawless production, shining synths and anthemic sing-along choruses, if you can hit the notes. Front-woman Noora Louhimo claims inspiration from Finnish pub rock bands like Popeda in the video linked above, rather than power metal. So the super contrived nerdy stuff you might associate with the style is largely absent, and as a band they’ve become more accessible than I remember.
Circus of Doom is essentially a hard rock record with pop and power metal elements mixed in. The carnival/circus theme isn’t too excessive, even on the opener “Circus of Doom” which features gothic synth chimes and chugging Bodom-esque guitars, alongside choirs chanting “the circus is coming to town.” This is actually among the heaviest songs on the record and the longest, with most clocking in right around the four minute mark. “Wings of Light” is another strong power metal-adjacent track that recalls Nightwish circa Dark Passion Play. It could be argued I suppose that the music is very derivative; they’re channelling Nightwish again on the choruses of “Master of Illusion” and “Where Angels Fear to Fly.” At the same, Battle Beast inject a sense of hair metal swagger that evades the compositions of Tuomas Holopainen. Louhimo’s vocals seem somewhat polarizing, with some listeners finding the grit in her upper range off-putting. To me it sounds cultivated and I’m impressed by her consistent performance; she has the perfect voice to lead the band in a pop-metal direction, not dissimilar at times to the late Jani Lane of Warrant.
The second half of the record is weaker, with heavy piano/synth use and hackneyed lyrics on “Russian Roulette.” There is usually some redemption to be found in the choruses of each song, but not always. A low point of the album might be “Freedom” with trite lyrics like “you’ll feel the urge for more / metal for your soul.” It’s a good reminder of why I’m not a power metal fan, degenerating into DragonForce tier synth wizardry and a soulless solo. There’s some easily forgettable music here, “Armageddon” being an outlier in that regard with a very good guitar solo that’s kept short.
I’ve mentioned more than once that Battle Beast sound like Nightwish. The homage spills over into near parodic levels on “Place That We Call Home,” which sounds like it could be an outtake from Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Maybe I’m being unfair, as this is a very easy comparison to make, and I have not listened to their earlier pub rock and glam influences. The resemblance is surface level in a sense: they are both Finnish bands in broadly the same genre. More to the point, I would listen to these bands for very different reasons. Where the elder musicians are more reflective and cinematic, Battle Beast play swaggering anthem rock. For what it is, there is a high degree of merit and even charm. They also seem to have developed musically since the days of the corny “Black Ninja,” pinning down a formula that works.
Formulas and templates are important in music, and are inevitable, even in heavy metal. Some metalheads seem to forget or actively suppress the notion that metal is still a form of commercial, popular music. But there’s no shame whatsoever in accepting it; sometimes it feels good to hear some unapologetic, frilly modern pop metal. Battle Beast are descendants of a distinctly Finnish hair tradition led by Hanoi Rocks in the late 70’s, as well as the distinctly Finnish power metal sounds of Nightwish, Tarot and arguably Children of Bodom. I would recommend this album to casual fans of any of these groups: for a mostly blind buy, this was a good find, and the novelty of re-listening on cassette made up for the weaker second half.
Standout tracks: “Circus of Doom,” “Master of Illusion,” “Where Angels Fear to Fly”