“Epic” is an oft-abused descriptor, including by yours truly. It has probably been applied to half the bands in existence at one point or another. A particularly good riff can be called epic and the term is guaranteed to pop up when a full blown orchestra is involved. But when it comes to epic heavy metal, the first name to come to mind for many is Sabaton. Their sense of galloping grandeur and pounding symphonic arrangement is instantly recognizable even for someone who, like me, is not otherwise particularly well-versed in their material. Reflection are clearly major fans of Sabaton, however, while it’s not quite a mirror copy of the Swedes, these Greeks have definitely cast Bleed Babylon Bleed from the same mold. But is this an epic fail or can they seize victory on the battlefield?
Opener “Glorious Victory” sure seems to suggest the latter. It’s a fast and catchy ditty that bursts forth from the shadow of the intro with booming conviction from the manly choir and a charging riff to strike fear into the hearts of enemies. Vocalist George Thomaidis has a timbre, not unlike that of Tim “Ripper” Owens, but he manages more variety and expression than the much maligned former Iced Earth frontman. In a rare case, his strong accent turns out to be a boon, as it creates an entertaining theatricality. Other standouts are the first stanza of “Stormbringer,” which makes effective use of instrumental silence to make the vocals hit harder, and “Time Traveller” which carries shades of Brave New World era Iron Maiden.
It should be noted that the expected symphonic arrangements are surprisingly minimal here, aside from a smattering of choral touches and some backing synths. The grandeur is largely derived from Thomaidis’ voice and competently written riffs that create a back-and-forth between spirited charge and triumphant booming. By comparison, the rhythm section seems a bit more perfunctory. The drums are competent but don’t do anything unexpected, and the bass is prevented from having much impact on the production: the only blemish on an otherwise exemplary dynamic master and balanced mix.
“Epic” is more than just instrumental arrangements, though. A different aspect is the songwriting, which is often expansive and takes a single song through several acts. Considering the historical source of the word is the heroic oratory poetry like the Iliad, no surprise there. But Reflection chose differently. All of the tracks here go through a simple verse-chorus-verse structure, spiced up minimally with a bridge or solo, and rarely cross the five-minute mark. It makes for bit- size material, and indeed the whole album takes less than 40 minutes to run its course. It’s low-level enough to be catchy on the first spin and I enjoyed myself the second time around as well. But variety is sacrificed for the sake of simplicity and this turns out to be the Achilles’ heel of Bleed Babylon Bleed. “The Iron Tower,” “Takla Makan,” the aforementioned “Stormbringer” and the awkward title track suffer the most from repetitiveness, but none of the tracks are completely free from its yoke, save for perhaps the opener. Choruses especially more often than not fall to the ‘repeat one line four times’ trap. It seems to betray a shortage of ideas, misaligning with the competent and spirited execution.
Babylon is the first album released by Reflection in nine years. Such a lengthy hiatus should logically have heralded a wealth of ideas and great diversity in songwriting. It was not to be. I am entirely in favor of a small yet catchy stab of epic metal, plus there is enough talent among the band members, but because the tracks themselves repeat their one idea far too often, staleness settles in all too quick. It’s a flaw that becomes progressively more significant with repeat listens [Technically know as a “hamartia.” – Steel Diction]. If all tracks had been as strong as “Glorious Victory” the story would have ended very differently, but rather than the heroic victory Bleed Babylon Bleed envisioned, the tale ends with the hero defeated by his own machinations. What a tragedy.