Battlesword – Towards the Unknown Review

German stalwarts Battlesword have been out there, waging metal war, since 1999. Despite that lengthy tour of service, new platter Towards the Unknown will be only the band’s fourth full-length, with a yawning 13-year gap between their debut, Falling in Triumph, and the sophomore effort, Banners of Destruction. Battlesword’s last outing, And Death Cometh Upon Us, was released in the twentieth year of the band’s existence and continued to beat a path through the well-trodden , blood-soaked fields of melodic death metal. With more than a little Amon Amarth (circa With Oden on Our Side or Twilight of the Thundergod) in the sound, that release was a solid, if unremarkable, record. Does this new album’s title, Towards the Unknown, herald a change of style for these veterans or is this, as the artwork might also suggest, a reflection on the band’s mortality?

Towards the Unknown comprises seven new melodic death metal cuts, together with the three tracks of Battlesword’s 2008 demo, The 13th Black Crusade, which have been remastered for inclusion here. Battlesword has not entirely abandoned the similarities to Amon Amarth found on their last record but there is also more of a classic Scandi death style on show here, with nods to the likes of At the Gates in both the guitars and the guttural, roared vocals. Bassist Ben Bays also plays in the excellent Nyktophobia, and the churning rhythms found on Towards the Unknown are like a slightly slowed down version of what was found on Nyktophobia’s 2020 effort, What Lasts Forever. There is an almost insistent gallop to Christian Schmitz’ guitars on Towards the Unknown, driving the record forward at a measured, yet unstoppable pace.

With Andreas Klingen’s methodical work behind kit providing the muscular backbone to the album, Battlesword drive forward without pausing for breath and also without offering much by way of variety. Without hitting the breakneck pace of the Gothenburg sound, nor even that of Nyktophobia, in the new material here, there is nevertheless a certain energy built into the thundering bass and drums of Towards the Unknown, while Schmitz’ melodic leads have a mournful, keening sense of loss to them. Although tracks like “The Shores of I” could easily be taken from a mid-career Amon Amarth record, others—like first proper track (after a wasted intro) “The Awakening”—have more in common with last year’s very good Duskmourn record. Axel Müller’s vocals are a pleasing, gravelly roar but don’t pack quite enough punch to fully engage me, especially as they are very one note in their delivery.

It is telling that my three favorite tracks on here are the last three, namely the remastered tracks from Battlesword’s 2008 demo. These have a frenetic urgency and passion to them that pops, in a way the new material simply fails to do. Whether it’s the furious pace set by the drums, the almost buzzsawing riffs or the snarling, barked vocals, these three tracks (and “There Will be Blood” in particular) share a lot of DNA with early (i.e. good) In Flames and just feel like the work of a young, hungry band.  The new material on show is perfectly well written and slickly executed but there is no escaping the fact that it feels just a bit workmanlike. It has to be said that, whatever one thinks of Towards the Unknown, it sounds very good indeed. The guitars feel thick and lush, and the master is perfectly balanced. This made sense when I discovered that Battlesword brought in Dan ‘The Man’ Swanö to work on this record with them.

I have gone back and forth on what to make of Towards the Unknown. On the one hand, it’s well executed and feels both familiar and, although this may sound like a strange thing to say about melodic death metal, comforting. At the same time, one might also say it feels comfortable and there is no doubt that Battlesword played it safe on this record. Ironically, the inclusion of the remastered old stuff actually highlights this and, although those three tracks are very good, they emphasize the mixed nature of the album as a whole. In short, there’s nothing wrong with Towards the Unknown but it’s also extremely hard to get excited about anything on show here, other than perhaps the very good production.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: MDD Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: September 16th, 2022

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