Sweet mother of Jesusabub, is there no relief from 2013s merciless crusade against bands I like? One by one I’ve watched them fall to some diabolical curse of ungoodness and all I can do is stare at the release schedule with unease and wonder…who’s next? The answer is Finland’s bullet-belted cheese mongers, Battle Beast. As you may or may not care to remember, I made quite a fuss over their Steel debut due to its infectious brand of Euro-power tinged with traditional metal. It was ridiculously cheese-tastic, but it had more balls than a gym teacher’s storage closet and every song was an earworm Paul Atreides himself would be proud to ride. A huge part of the band’s charm came from the leather lunged power and presence of front woman Nitte Valo. She was part banshee, part rock star, all metal and her pipes were impossible to resist. Naturally, she bailed and now the Beast is fronted by new femme fatale Noora Louhimo and though she’s good, she’s no Nitte. Along with the line up change comes a new fixation on hair metal and a more slick, commercial sound. While some of the essential elements of the band remain (lion-men fighting robots), their sophomore opus is a mere shadow of Steel and has way too many boring, uninspired, power metal nuggets. Oh, the humanity!
Though I was intensely unhappy to hear of Ms. Valo’s exodus, I approached this with an open mind and opener “Let It Roar” gave me reason to hope for great things. It’s very much the same type song that graced Steel and Noora acquits herself well, showcasing aggressive, in-your-face vocals and respectable range. She’s paired with the Grave Digger-like rasps of guitarist Anton Kabanen and the result is a face-ripping barnstormer of a tune. However, that’s as good as it gets and the remainder is a mix of catchy, but wishy-washy, 80s bubble gum metal and some harder, but less memorable tunes. On the good side of the pond, “Out of Control” and Out in the Streets” are accessible, Lita Ford-ish lite metal and they have an undeniable hook factor come chorus time. “Into the Heart of Darkness” is heavier, memorable and sounds a bit like Mike Howe era Metal Church, but the twinkling keys and concerted effort to make it more commercial undermines it. “Raven” is heavier still and Noora shows she can get rough and raspy when needed.
Sadly, the last six songs (out of an unlucky thirteen) contain but one respectable tune (“Kingdom”), with the rest falling between bad (“Over the Top,” “Black Ninja”) and uninteresting (“Machine Revolution,” “Fight Kill Die”). In an inexplicable move, they end with the song “Rain Man,” which has exactly the same chorus as “Raven” except Noora bellows RAIN MAN instead of RAVEN, thereby making me think of Dustin Hoffman standing there looking worried and in need of hugs and clean underwear. That’s not fookin metal.
Before the finger-pointing starts, I want to stress that the material doesn’t fail because of Noora’s vocals. She can play this game with the big boys and I came to enjoy her vocals quite a bit after I got over my Nitte-picking. She can sing with power and also sound quite hypnotic when she wants. If she was given material as good as the Steel stuff, I’m sure she would carry the day with aplomb. Sadly, the band seems to have shot their creative wad and could only cobble together half an album’s worth of decent material. The more melodic approach also strikes me as misstep. They open with such a rabble rousing anthem, then proceed to dial shit back from 11 to 7 (have they learned nothing from Spinal Tap? If it goes to 11, turn it to 11!!). Another complaint is the paucity of Kabanen’s wild screech/rasps. He blows the roof off on “Let It Roar” and then falls silent for the rest of the album. That seems a rather poor choice.
There were plenty of synths on Steel, but they were used to create an epic flavor. Here, the keys remind me way too much of Judas Priest‘s Turbo album and they veer into bubbly, dance club electronica at times too. The guitars are often too subdued and fighting for space, and without a big guitar sound, this stuff feels fairly flaccid. At least the solos by Kabanen and Juuso Soinio are wildly exaggerated and amusing in a true metal way.
Battle Beast feels like a safe, watered down album by a band that believed they were on the verge of something big. Gone is the tongue-in-cheek, nerd-raging flair and fuck you attitude that put Steel on the map and without it, Battle Beast is just another cheesy power metal band with a chick singer. I think I deserve more out of this relationship. In short, this Altered Beast don’t hunt.