Canada’s Battlesoul recently released their new album ‘Sunward and Starward’ on CDN Records, which showcases their bold approach to multi-genre songwriting. The main components seem to be rooted in Extreme Metal sub-genres, from Black to Doom to Melodic Death, complimented by strong Celtic & Symphonic elements. The vocals are diverse too, ranging from harsh, aggressive roars and battle cries, to epic clean vocals and even some Celtic & Operatic female vocal passages thanks to the guest vocals of Alina Gavrilenko (Snowmaiden).
Given that opening tracks are hugely important in that they provide first impressions and usually set the tone, this album’s opening track ‘All I Understand’ is surprisingly my least favourite and this is solely down to the high-pitched, squawky vocal performance. This vocal style, which sounds something between the likes of Brian Johnson (AC/DC) and Udo Dirkschneider (Accept), only appears in this first song, but given this is the opener it’s hugely risky for those listeners that don’t like this vocal technique, who could then be immediately switched off by it and don’t listen to the songs that follow. Hopefully these listeners will hear the potential in the accompanying music, give it the benefit of the doubt and listen beyond the opener, because it gets so much better from here!
‘Bearing The Word’ are ‘The Watcher’ are dark and foreboding yet euphorically epic at the same time, with some killer riffs, huge swathes of harmonic synths and molten guitar melodies. The styles are mainly MeloDeath with a Blackened undertone.
The likes of ‘Arrival’ and ‘Azure Skies’ have a stronger Celtic/Folk Melodic Death style running through them. The former features dreamlike synth pads that wash over the composition to create a melancholic vibe, whilst the latter has a more hectic, relentless pace featuring both male extreme vocals and female singing.
Some tracks are incredibly progressive, switching pace and style numerous times. ‘The Watcher’ is the first to do this, opening with a downtempo, almost Doom-like pace, with an epic, panoramic musical soundscape that fans of Insomnium would adore, before shifting gear with an intense, pounding rhythmic barrage of triggered kicks and riffs – a mix of modern Djent and MeloDeath styles. Acting as musical bookends, the song closes with the same epic riff and grinding pace that it opened with, top & tailing the track beautifully.
Title track ‘Sunward and Starward’ takes progression up a notch with multiple tempo changes and genre switches, all in just under 8 minutes. Beginning with a ferocious, Blackened Death Metal opening with plenty of guitar trills and trigger kicks, then slowing to a grinding pace, creating a dark, Doom-laden musical tapestry, accentuated by agonisingly tormented extreme vocal passages. During these Doomy periods, the song is also incredibly atmospheric, enhanced by layered synth string pads to add a grandiose-yet-sombre, funeral-like feel. Instrumentally, acoustic guitars are introduced part-way through and a section featuring a male/female vocal duet, which isn’t too easy to follow at first given they sing different lyrical refrains before eventually merging together to sing the same lyrics in unison – an interesting yet slightly confusing technique. As the track progresses towards the close, the tone darkens significantly, heading into Black Metal territory, complete with a vitriolic spoken word passage to introduce this final style change – the musical passage that follows is pure pain & despair to the very end.
‘The Loss of Sons’ has an atmospheric, downtempo intro very much in the vain of Moonsorrow whilst the uptempo sections feature galloping rhythms & guitar riffs, melodies with a Northern European flavour and Death growls, all of which will likely appeal to fans of Amon Amarth et al. Add Operatic female vocals performing the chorus motif in harmony with the guitars & synths and you’ve got a fantastic blend of brutal, heavy and dramatic in one neat package.
Lastly, ‘Totem’ and ’So It Goes’ are predominantly Folk-tinged Melodic Death songs and are equally epic, whilst the closing track ‘Break The Day’ has all the ferocity of MeloDeath, but with the added epic-ness of multiple lead guitar refrains and finished off in grandiose fashion with male vocals belting out the penultimate chorus in an almost Jari Mäenpää (Wintersun) fashion, then one more round of female Operatic singing for the chorus’ finale. Simply stunning.
Quite honestly, I’ve not come across many albums with such musical diversity and progression, that also manage weave and meander between genres so naturally. The influence of European Folk Metal bands is very obvious and Battlesoul definitely have the knack for capturing the spirit of that music in their own sound. For those who have listened to previous albums, the band have developed their sound over the course of the 12 years they’ve been around and it’s clear that they wanted to push boundaries and demonstrate further progression on this release. I’ve been captivated by ‘Sunward and Starward’ for many weeks now and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of Folk Metal, Melodic Death, Doom & Symphonic Black Metal and extreme music with the signature Scandinavian / Northern European sound.
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