Following these guys is like dating someone with a serious mood disorder. Sure, the wild emotional swings keep it interesting, but the payoff is rarely worth the effort. Bloodbound started out as a throwback traditional metal act, releasing an excellent debut which benefitted greatly from the considerable vocal talents of Urban Breed (ex-Tad Morose, ex-Pyramaze). Breed left thereafter but their sophomore outing was solid nonetheless, and he returned once again for the very good Tabla Rasa outing. He then bailed again, leaving the band to utilize the talents of Patrik “Pata” Johansson for 2011s Unholy Cross, which had moments, but was ultimately too generic to pass muster. Then came the abomination of 2012s In the Name of Metal, which only served to give metal a bad name. With such a ragged history, you can sympathize with your Steelness when he doesn’t expect much from Stormborn, especially since it’s a Game of Thrones themed platter of R.R. Martin pablum, which feels like a tired concept already. One thing’s for certain, it has to be better than their last milk dud, doesn’t it?
Thank Crom, it is! Despite songs about dragons, oaths and uncomfortable throne designs, Bloodbound bounces back with a more lively and entertaining foray into Euro-power pomp and primping, giving Hammerfall a run for their leather britches and plastic armor. I guess they realized there wasn’t a big market for self-parodying mega-cheese about how hard it is to be a metalhead. A wise decision, since Manowar has that market cornered and Joey DeMaio stands eternally ready to litigate with his + 20 Attorneys of Steel.
Stormborn is an album full of speedy, direct and simplistic anthems which the band strains to make as epic and huge sounding as possible. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Opener “Satanic Panic” comes across like a mix of Judas Priest‘s Painkiller and the silliness of Powerwolf, but the end result is amusing and listenable. Much better is the heavier, more muscular attack of “Iron Throne” where you come to realize their new sound is exactly like Sabaton doing D&D metal, with the same wall of heavy riffs, dramatic keyboards and simple structuring. It’s got enough balls to pass as serious and enough melody and hooks to satisfy the Euro-power weenies. They push this style further on the title track, which is mindfuckingly cheesy, but oddly addictive in all its overblown ridiculousness. They also saw fit to make what may be the worst metal video of all time for this song and I defy anyone to get through it without herniating themselves with laughter at the grade school craft project production values.
As goofy as the music is, you can’t deny the hook factor on tunes like “Nightmares From the Grave,” “We Raise the Dead” and “When the Kingdom Will Fall,” try though you might. The same can’t be said for lesser tracks like “Made of Steel” and “When All Light Fails” because they don’t pack enough payoff come chorus time to offset the unhealthy lactose abuse. That said, none of the songs outright suck, which many did on the last album, so they definitely stepped up the level of writing.
Another problem holding back Stormborn is the brickwalled, smashed to shit production. It feels compressed to death and the inevitable wall of sound appears anytime the music gets feisty. Some of it clocks in at DR 4, and that’s just silly.
Performance-wise, Patrik Johansson is a solid singer with a good range, but something about his voice always strikes me as average and dime-a-dozen. He does a yeoman’s work here, but he lacks the gravitas needed to raise songs to that next level. Competent, but uninspiring is the best way to describe him. And that suits the rest of the band as well. No one distinguishes themselves or gives the material that extra kick in the arse it needs to put it into the next tier of quality. Competent but generic across the boards.
Stormborn is better than the last few Bloodbound albums, but nowhere near the Urban Breed era. It’s also better than the last Hammerfall opus while essentially offering the same style, so fans of theirs should definitely check this out. As for me, I’m still left hoping these guys can recapture their former glory, but at least they didn’t embarrass themselves this time, because that’s embarrassing. In closing, don’t date people with mood disorders and Hail to Stannis, the one legitimate King!