“What’s the catch of the day today?”
“Well sir, we have some Tolkien themed, gothic-tinged, epic fantasy metal by the Finnish group Battelore.”
“Is it fresh?”
“Yes, it’s their brand new album Doombound and it just came out.”
“How is it prepared?”
“With heaping helpings of beauty and the beast vocals (or should I say elf and orc), lots of keyboards, heavy orchestration and a big, crystal clear production by renowned Swedish chef Dan Swano.”
“Sounds interesting, but is it good?”
“Well sir, just between you and me, it’s rather bland, tasteless, overly tame and safe.”
“Oh gee, that sucks, it was sounding really good there for a minute. I guess I’ll go with the Belphegor blackened catfish with a side of Stratovarius fruit salad.”
“Very good choice sir.”
All kidding aside, I was a pretty big fan of the past few Battlelore releases, especially 2008’s The Last Alliance and really enjoyed how the band wove their tales of dungeons and dragons nerdery by expertly balancing the hammer with the harpsichord. The style worked because the songcraft made the most of the trade offs between the smooth, beautiful vocals of frontwoman Kaisa Jouhki and the rasping death roars of Tomi Mykkanen. The music itself wandered from Within Temptation/Nightwish styled gothic metal to more aggressive power, death and even black metal. Sadly, a lot of what worked before seems to be missing here on Doombound and although a few songs still succeed, this album is a seriously missed opportunity to build on the momentum of The Last Alliance and marks a step back for these LARP happy Middle Earthers.
Right off the bat something feels different on Doombound and opener “Bloodstained” showcases a slower, kinder and gentler Battlelore. The vocals by Tomi are more restrained and clean/gruff rather than deathy and while he sounds fine, the song has very low energy and never seems to truly get going (in several songs the death vox are relegated to the background). Elf Queen Kaisa carries the song and sounds enchanting as always, but it feels more like an intro piece than an opening track. As Doombound unspools however, it becomes apparent this is the new style Battlelore is going for and follow up tracks like “Iron of Death,” “Bow and Helm” and several others feel mellow, tepid and lackluster. While there a few decent cuts like “Enchanted,” “Men As Wolves” and “Karmessurma,” by and large, this is a collection of listless and average songs that won’t do much to excite the metal mind (assuming you like some energy and pep in your metal) and this feels like a band going through the motions without conviction or energy.
The main problem is clearly the songwriting. Most of the tracks lack the impact and instant appeal that was so prevalent on The Last Alliance and most don’t resonate with me, despite repeated listens and a heartfelt effort on my part. Also hurting things is the song pacing, which is almost uniformly slow to mid-paced, and ultimately, tedious and samey. Adding to these songwriting woes is the Dan Swano production which, despite being lush and clear, pushes the guitar too far back in the mix, while allowing the keyboard and orchestration to lead the way (thereby causing the dreaded Overproduction Emasculation Syndrome). These troubles together ensure that the vitality and power is sapped from the sound and the album is left feeling tame and weak. In all honesty, this was one of the most difficult reviews I’ve done, because I had so much trouble remaining focused and paying attention to the music for more than few minutes at a time. Not a promising sign for an epic fantasy metal album.
Doombound left me quite disappointed to say the least. Because I heartily enjoyed many of Battlelore’s prior works, I’m sincerely hoping this is a blip on the radar and they will self correct and come back with a real troll stomping opus next time out but this one wouldn’t scare Frodo and Sam. Skip this dull, plain tasting platter and order something more meaty and spicy from the Menu of Metal.