With a basic internet connection offering an up-to-the-minute cornucopia of quality metal releases, snap judgments have become an unfortunate way of life. On my first listen, Undrask came off as middling melodeath in the vain of acts emulating Clayman—In Flames and peak Children of Bodom. Packaged in a blue-and-orange visage that could leave Michael Bay weak in the knees, debut Battle Through Time initially left me stifling a yawn. Sorry, better luck next time. NEXT!
…Raise your hand if you’ve done that before. I’m more than guilty of this behavior and if not for this gig, I would have whiffed on Undrask altogether1. Instead, Undrask earned my respect with an incredibly fun debut that accomplished the enviable task of improving with every spin.
The quintet from North Carolina recognized their strength in producing fantastic melodies and rightly constructed an album capable of showcasing that talent. Though the production never squeaks as boldly or cleanly as compatriots like Words of Farewell or Sunless Rise, BTT intentionally leans on infectious leads meant to make hitting the skip button impossible. On-the-face proceedings often recall Orpheus Omega sans keyboard, but with more focus on letting their riffs do the talking. The dual axework sources everywhere from classic heavy metal to power to melodeath, meaty keyboard-y, and everywhere in between. Eric Collier’s lead work, while utterly enjoyable alone, would feel hollow without the essential rhythms and twin leads of Darryl Dewitt. Bridges pillared atop progressive influences regularly lead the way to incredible Symphony X solos that surpass my standard expectations for the genre. Even now, I wonder where my head was when I shrugged at the Stickum-coated opener “No Graves for the Dead.”
The harried “Champion of the Dawn” reveals a darker side of Undrask, peppering the track’s underbelly with rhythmic gallops and tom-thumping. This shift ushers in a top-tier midsection that unlocks the core of BTT. Deeper shading and heavy rhythm reliance in Undrask’s overall sound on “Black Ocean” injects another layer of complexity to its previously straightforward offerings. Even if the song structure does not heavily deviate from its chorus-centrality, Undrask do well to retain their memorability. The Blind Guardian acoustics of interlude “Embers and Omens” fulfill their promise as they build into anthemic standout “Longhammer.” A song about a mystical mind-controlling warhammer may as well feature Angus McFife XIII, for how silly it sounds, yet I’ll be damned if Undrask didn’t pour their souls into this one (directly from their collector’s edition Amon Amarth alehorns). Adding to the mead hall feel, Steve Wynn tips his vocal scale toward Johan Hegg, rather than his usual scaled-back Ville Viljanen (Mors Principium Est). As the curtains pull on the fantastic intro to follow-up “Primal Revelation,” Undrask have earned their return to the straightforward direction they embarked on at the start of BTT.
At no point do Undrask feel as if they are going through the motions. Despite a lack of superstar pop hooks like “Karma Favors the Weak,” every cut finds a way to justify its existence. As such, flaws are few and far between. The album lacks structural variance, not the end of the world with melodies like these. But as the close of “No Graves for the Dead” and the titular closer suggest, working deviations around a central motif a la Wilderun would add another layer of intricacy. I also intended to use this space to bitch about the 40 Minute Rule™2, as the album is over only by the length of closer “Battle Through Time.” The track tends to drag, while penultimate “Final Right” nails the should-be finale to BTT. But hell, a simple track order shuffle rectifies the issue and “Battle Through Time” offers some of the structural variety I requested. I would simply be cherry-picking negatives if I said this hindered my enjoyment in any meaningful way.
Truth be told, this album started as a surefire 2.5. But I cannot remember a record grabbing me by the collar and shouting “No, you listen to me” with such force. Undrask squeeze everything I want into a modern melodeath offering. From head-bopping rhythms and inescapable melodies to air-guitar-wherever-you-are solos, Battle Through Time effortlessly reminds me of why I love the genre. Don’t judge this one by its cover.