To fully understand the absurdity that is Beast in Black is to know their roots and lyrical inclinations. Formed by Battle Beast guitarist Anton Kabanen following his departure from the band in 2015, Beast in Black’s debut Berserker is a sonic extension of Battle Beast; ostensibly, it’s an identical formulation of mid-paced heavy/power metal, with added Sabaton influence and a side helping of glam rock and Euro pop. This nakedly derivative formula is made all the more amusing when one realizes that Kabanen also imported his Berserk-themed lyrics from his old band. From Hell with Love sees Beast in Black sinking to new ineffectual lows, and the resulting irony of pairing this music with one of the most brutal comics I’ve ever encountered is more hilarious than ever. Too bad that the record feels messier than any heap of gore that Berserk ever portrayed.
I feel cheated, because From Hell with Love had me hyped for a great record after its opening track. “Cry Out for a Hero,” based on Fist of the North Star, is a knockout of a heavy metal cut; its combination of strong power metal hooks, stomping verses, and infectious, piano-backed, Meat Loaf-esque chorus never fails to subconsciously charm me into a state of dancing-slash-headbanging. The Meat Loaf influence reoccurs with conclusory track “No Surrender,” the album’s second best track and a truly fun piece of metallized ’80s hype pop; even if Gloryhammer did it better four years ago. Had From Hell with Love managed to maintain this level of quality, it would have been at least a match for the admittedly charming Berserker.1
Unfortunately, everything sandwiched between these two tracks is a bizarrely inconsistent mishmash of okay power metal tunes and legitimately awful songwriting choices. “Repentless,” aside from cribbing the joke that is the title of one of Slayer’s worst records, is a decent piece of Sabaton worship, but that’s basically the best of the bunch. “Oceandeep” is an absolutely terrible ballad, complete with flute sections, that even modern Nightwish would feel obligated to point and laugh at. Elsewhere, “Sweet True Lies” provides further embarrassment with its hilariously cliched glam rock chorus, though its verse at least provides some catchy gang vocals. Everything else falls into decidedly mediocre territory, though I feel compelled to praise the synth bridge of “Unlimited Sin” for managing to avoid straight-up plagiarizing “Megalovania” by strategically altering a handful of notes.
Beast in Black is comprised of members whose performances are competent, if unremarkable, save one key player. Vocalist Yannis Papadopolous, who gave an unforgettable performance on Wardrum’s 2015 masterpiece Awakening, steals the spotlight at every turn. His gritty, soaring highs, counterbalanced by periodic moments of expertly controlled serenity, never fail to impress. Compared to his work with Wardrum, however, Papadopolous’ performances lack nuance. Songs are constructed to suit him performing at either a 1 or a 10 in intensity, leaving little room for dynamism. From Hell with Love’s production is similarly starved for breathing room, sticking close to the standard, bombastic Nuclear Blast power metal sound. The record is far from unlistenable; just polished to a sugary, chrome-like sheen, the sonic equivalent of staring directly into the sun.
Lack of sophistication2 wouldn’t be a patch on From Hell with Love were most of it at least fun to listen to. Yet the bulk of the album feels undeniably discardable, with its worst tracks never even qualifying for So Bad It’s Good status like “Crazy, Mad, Insane” did on Berserker.3 Indeed, much of the record is bad—or even worse, forgettably milquetoast—yet because of its predecessor’s fun factor, I can’t shake the feeling that a simple reworking could convert even its worst tracks into immensely satisfying guilty pleasures. As it was recorded, From Hell with Love comes across as sloppy and obligatory, but at least Beast in Black managed to pen a couple of bonafide bangers before meeting their studio reservation date. Download those cuts, throw away the rest, and spend your resulting free time giving Wardrum some massively deserved attention.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: v0 mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: beastinblack.bandcamp.com | beastinblack.com | facebook.com/beastinblackofficial
Releases Worldwide: February 8th, 2019