When I first heard that super talented metal vocalist Urban Breed had left the excellent Tad Morose I was very unhappy. When he popped up in the strangely corpse painted but great classic metal band Bloodbound for their 2006 debut, I was happy again. Then he left, then he came back, and now he’s left yet again. C’mon man, what the hell are you doing? As the ever fickle Mr. Breed contemplates his career options, the boys in Bloodbound soldiered on without him and are set to release their fourth platter Unholy Cross. With vocals now being handled by Patrik Johnansson (Dawn of Silence), Unholy Cross finds Bloodbound bouncing back and forth between their usual classic metal sound and modern Euro-power metal similar to Edguy, Mystic Prophecy and Stratovarius. Gone is the slick blend of classic and modern metal they explored on 2009’s excellent Tabula Rasa and sadly, a lot of the overall excitement seems leeched from their sound this time as well. While still worthwhile, this is inferior to their earlier material, especially Tabula Rasa.
Although I was bummed this was Breedless album, early into opener “Moria” it was clear Johansson was a wise choice to replace him. He has a great voice, very well-suited for Bloodbound’s style. At times he sounds similar to Bruce Dickinson and Edguy’s Tobias Sammet. Right off the bat he gets to shine, since “Moria” is one of the album highlights with a great traditional metal sound and the classic line “bang your head to hell and back.” If that’s not metal, what is? This is an instantly likeable, hooky song and classic Bloodbound. Things get even better with follow-up “Drop the Bomb” which is a top-notch, ballsy number similar in sound to the recent Accept material and it rocks rock rocks. So far so very good indeed. However, as Unholy Cross progresses, the style jumps over to Euro-power metal and too many of the songs seem bland and derivative. Songs like “Reflections of Evil,” “Together We Fight” and “In the Dead of the Night” while not bad, are very average. Likewise, the slower power ballad “Brothers of War” feels overwrought without also being compelling. Additionally, “The Dark Side of Life” and “Together We Fight” sound like throw aways from Edguy’s Mandrake album. Hardly what I’ve come to expect from these guys and it’s vexing. Not until the closing title track does the quality come close to that of the first two songs.
From a performance standpoint, there’s plenty of impressive fretwork from the Olsson brothers and Johansson sounds great from start to finish. The problem is, a lot of the songs just don’t have the impact and staying power that was common on prior Bloodbound releases. That may be due to their adoption of an overly generic Euro-power style or a failure to write material up to their normal standards. Whatever the cause, Unholy Cross feels like a let down. Especially so after the greatness of the first two tracks. After those tracks ended, my interest waned each time I spun this.
While not as good as prior releases, Unholy Cross is still a decent enough collection of traditional and power metal songs with a few exceptional moments. I miss the energy and style of Tabula Rasa and take issue with the Edguy aping but as traditional/power metal releases go so far in 2011, this isn’t the worst. Where in the world is Urban Breed when we need him?