What better way to start 2015 than with a smack in the face by 120 lbs. of steaming, internally conflicted cheddar? That’s right, Battle Beast is back after their disappointing eponymous album, and they sound even more confused than when they made the dubious leap from the raucous, over the top Euro-power of their wondrous Steel debut to hair metal influenced pop-power. Now it seems they want to have their beastly cake and eat it too, as Unholy Savior is a disjointed mix of their classic style and the newer commercial direction. You end up with a hodgepodge of mega-cheesball power anthems, sugary sweet ballads and some oddball misfit cuts. Though the more ballbusting tracks harken back to the glory of Steel, the album is simply too herky jerky to succeed and once again I’m left unsatisfied and cranky like an angry man baby.
As with their last album, Battle Beast come out of the gate hard with a rousing, fist pumping dose of power. “Lionheart” is close enough to their early works (and the general sound of Sabaton for that matter) to get the blood burning and the Alestrorm churning, Noora Louhimo sounds raw and rowdy and it’s a pretty fun ride, though not as captivating as their older material. They keep the metal coming on the title track, which sounds like a reprise of “The Band of the Hawk” from Steel as it rocks the same bombastic keyboards. The big standout is “I Want the World” and its stomping, infectious energy and wild child vocal attack. This is the kind of tune I want from the band and it brings a smile to this jaded old metal fan.
Things motor decently until “Sea of Dreams,” which is an ethereal ballad that could easily fit on early Within Temptation albums like The Silent Force. It’s pretty and delicate, but quite out-of-place. And things never really recover from there, as the band jumps from mediocre Germanic power metal like “Madness” and “Speed and Danger” to super cheesy pop on “Touch in the Night,” the latter sounding like something Nena or Berlin might have released in 1983. The cheap dance club synths are painful and the song makes me snicker and point derisively. Then you get an acoustic interlude followed by a folksy instrumental with nods to Blind Guardian and then another milquetoast ballad. That’s a mighty tough and bouncy road to send the listener down and Steel Druhm prefers to travel in comfort and luxury.
As with the last album, Noora does some fine work vocally, showcasing her singing as well as her raspy, “metal maiden” voice and variations in-between. The vocal contributions from guitarist Anton Kabanen are also good fun, adding a shrieking, Grave Digger-esque element that sounds majorly badass alongside Noora’s hard-edged delivery. Sadly, he isn’t used nearly enough and I kept waiting in vain for him to reappear to amp up the lesser songs.
The Achilles heel of this particular altered beast is the song writing. While the debut was universally solid and addicting, they’ve now struggled with song craft on back to back albums. Too few are keepers and the album lacks a cohesive identity. Making matters worse, the entire back half seems to drift off into the phantom zone, with no clear direction, almost like the band is having an identity crisis.
Sad as it is, it looks like we aren’t getting another Steel, and if the past two releases are a fair indication of what we can expect, I’m moving Battle Beast from buy to sell status. If you like your metal indecisive and all over the map, Unholy Savior may rock your pirate ship, but I demand higher quality cheese for my hard-earned cabbage.