album review

There are two reasons I do this. The first and most important reason is because I love music. The second reason is because every now and again, I am totally and pleasantly surprised. Let me cut to the chase before we get into the minutiae – Battlecross’ new album “War of Will” readily fulfills both of those reasons.

At some point, we lost our collective minds. Obsessed with classifying everything, the amateur Linnaeus in us all has created a staggering matrix of labels we apply to the metal we listen to, to the point where describing a song can sometimes take longer than the actual track (and I wish I were making that up). By splitting the music into ever smaller pieces of understanding, we are able to better predict the likelihood of enjoying something before ever hearing a note, but we also reduce our exposure to new things, because we know exactly what we're getting.

Nickelback.

That’s an extremely charged word for anyone who has a more-than-casual interest in music of any type. Nickelback has come to symbolize all that is wrong with mainstream radio, the music industry and the lowest common denominator. More to the point, Nickelback also represents the current state of popular rock, encompassing the twin ideas of sleaze and arena rock.

I like to think of myself as being somewhat well-versed on metal and its history. But there are limits to anyone's capacity for knowledge, and when it comes to metal, mine is a mile wide and an inch deep. Only getting into heavy music after the glory days of the first wave bands was long over, my knowledge of the seminal roots of metal will never be as complete as someone who lived through those times, nor have I put in the effort to come closer.

We typically use this space to discuss the comings, goings and debuts of heavy metal, but let’s step back a second and ask a metaphysical question: What makes great music? We can all voice our opinions about why we love music to our very cores, and in a debate rarity, we’re all correct. The point is, no matter what our personal reasons are, they are all permutations of the same umbrella concept; like any non-visual medium, we appreciate that music gives us a mental image, or inspiration or a journey. Simply stated, no matter our stripes, music takes us someplace.

Every band lives the constant struggle to balance the reality of a band structure with the perception an audience has of the band. What that usually means is a degree of displeasure from the instrumentalists, while the singer gets the lion's share of the attention. It isn't fair, but because of how the personalities captured in voices draw the sharpest distinction between bands, it's the reality we all have to live with. Sometimes, however, the status quo isn't tenable, and things need to change.

European metal is a crowded landscape. In a genre choked with also-rans and soundalikes, every band tries to boast their worthiness as a product of their values, their image or their virtuoso guitar talent. Sirenia, the gothic band from Norway, attempts to stand out by placing all their chips singularly on vocal prowess and a sense of the moment. It’s risky roulette to play when the fans expect certain tropes to be part and parcel, but through this lens we are introduced to “Perils of the Deep Blue.”

The human voice is an instrument capable of a connection more personal than any other. Some voices are able to cut through us and reveal parts of ourselves we didn't know existed. That kind of relationship between a singer and a listener is rare, but it's the one I have with Dilana. From the first time I heard her sing on the ill-fated show “Rockstar: Supernova”, I could feel there was something in her voice that spoke to me. The road to now has not been easy, but most of the best things in life rarely are.

In recent years, we’ve witness a real revival of thrash as we once knew it. Bullet belts, gallop riff and west coast snarling are back in fashion. The more shows I go to, the more I’m seeing the return of denim, patch covered jackets and other paraphernalia ‘rescued’ from the early ‘80s that was such a part of thrash’s iconic birth. The pages of this very site have become littered with the exploits of a thrash resurgence, the genre reborn through a new generation and new eyes.

If anything has become clear from the drama surrounding Queensrÿche, it's that both versions of the band are better off this way. Geoff Tate is no longer constrained by a fan-base that blames him for not continuing to make music that sounds exactly like their classic records, while the remaining core of the band can play that kind of music without feeling creatively stagnant. The fans win as well, because they can follow either, neither, or both versions of Queensrÿche to get whatever they want out of their devotion.