August 27, 2015
Michigan’s Battlecross is a band that has defied a small stack of odds and hasn’t sweat the minutiae in getting to the point where they’re at now. Don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about? Good, because I barely do either, but let’s try and try and firm up the holes (or poke more holes) in my already moth-ridden hypothesis.
The band burst onto the scene beyond their Detroit-area home with all the force and flair of a paper boat limping along the gutter towards a sewer grate during a Midwest rain shower. An early tour – it may have been their first, in fact – saw their van kick the bucket partway through, necessitating the purchase of a brand new one while on the road. This may or may not have been before Metal Blade came into the picture with whatever passes for financial backing in these days of reduced revenues for the re-release of their re-recorded independent debut, Push Pull Destroy (re-titled Pursuit of Honor).
Over the years, there has been much drummer drama, a vocalist switcheroo and, most noticeably in these eyes anyway, the band continually finding itself slotted on a mixed bag of tours ranging from the most wretched of toilet venue runs to summer’s fully catered, travelling cavalcades. They often open for and play with bands whose fans you’d ordinarily think would sooner jab knitting needles in their earholes than listen to their brand of “blue collar thrash metal.” But Battlecross’ ability to rise above that sort of horsepucky is indicative of fearless dedication, ability to pen good tunes, excellent live energy, being super-nice dudes and probably having a hard-working booking agent on their side. People will give them stick about “blue collar thrash” being a roundabout way of wrapping a gritty lunch bucket around the occasional reference to a sound that came and went with the ubiquitous NWOAHM of seven to ten years ago, but they’ve keep trucking on, managed to distinguish themselves and turn up touring with Goatwhore and Hate Eternal one day, playing Metallica’s money haemorrhaging Orion Fest the next, before loading up for a stage-sharing stint with Crowbar, after sharing a tour bus with the Mayhem Fest’s (RIP?) lowest common denominator. Ultimately however, you don’t achieve any of this if you don’t have the tunes, which they certainly have demonstrated with Pursuit of Honor and War of Will, despite both album’s less than endearing second halves.
Rise to Power is album number three (three-and-a-half, if you want to get nerdy about things) and is probably the most consistent of the band’s discography. The quintet’s wavering quality and inability to maintain listener interest through an album’s second half or final third appears to have been conquered. Admittedly, the last couple of songs do sound like they’re edging towards a bit of wheel spinning, and when they employed the rather directionless acoustic intros on “The Path” and “Blood & Lies,” I was bracing the for the worst, but the energy remains intact. Everything up to and including “Despised,” song eight of ten, is choice, frilly no-frills thrash with tinges of melodic death metal and even slight nods to chromatic black metal, rocking out with en masse cocks out, grind in the form of drummer Alex Bent’s tendency to favourably alter the dynamics of songs by injecting a few measures of blast beat fury and the stellar work bassist Don Slater weaves all over and around the album. It remains criminal that his contributions and tasty playing continue to get overlooked by the metal cognoscenti.
Where Rise to Power makes its biggest statement is in not just the voluminous collection of intellectually engaging, yet fist pumping, riffs – check out ‘The Big Four’-ish shuffle of “Scars,” the spidery, single note up-tempo flash of “Absence” and the dynamic blips in “Spoiled” – but how the arrangements create a sense of forward motion that keep the above-mentioned songs cogently flowing and seeming shorter than their actual running time. Guitarists Tony Asta and Hiran Deraniyagala also make immense contributions with leads that aren’t thrown in solely for the sake of having a solo or because the rulebook says a song has to. Basically, their solos are phrased beautifully, are placed appropriately and come across as part of the song, not just a flurry of random notes spat out to fill space and appease the metal gods.
If there is an element of Rise to Power I’m struggling with, it’s that vocalist Kyle “Gumby” Gunther’s double-tracked, growl ‘n’ rasp sometimes seems misplaced, like he’s occasionally battling to find a suitable spot within music that calls for a broader displays across the vocal spectrum. His being so loud in the mix doesn’t help matters either. As a solution, or something to give future thought to, I’m not suggesting getting a Freddie Mercury wannabe or Rob Halford sound-a-like up there – trust me, I’ve been aurally picturing sparkling clean, air-raid siren vocals at various points throughout this record and it doesn’t work – but would like to see him expand his pipes to include the rawer, gruffer, more natural parts of his voice in conjunction with everything else. But hey, Gunther’s performance isn’t enough of a detriment for me to hesitate in giving this album a solid…
August 20, 2015
When you think of metal hotbeds in America, Detroit doesn’t exactly come to mind, but considering the ethos is thrash metal and all that’s happened to one of America’s most renown cities, it’s a union that makes sense. Battlecross has been the band spearheading the Detroit metal cause, and the group’s upcoming third album cements them as a top-tier thrash/death metal act. The road to how they got here is more interesting. After self-releasing their excellent debutPursuit of Honor, the Michigan band stuttered a bit on its follow-up (and first for Metal Blade) War of Will. While the debut helped showcase their formidable brand of thrash sprinkled with bits of melodeath. The band traffics in the same circles as Revocation and Sylosis, but Battlecross eschews a progressive influence for an added layer of classic heavy metal flair and showmanship. Battlecross always remembers the riff is king, so while songs will get technically impressive, they are a metal band first and foremost.
That’s what is so impressive with the band’s fantastic return to form, the appropriately-named Rise to Power. There’s a focus here that is refreshing. Each song seems perfectly suited to tear down the roof at the next Battlecross tour stop, with epic riffing, horns-in-the-air soloing, furious tempos, and shout-a-long choruses galore. While they don’t really sound like them, it’s easy to see the influence of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden onRise to Power, as themes of overcoming that which binds us or keeps us down are perfectly suited for Battlecross’ brand of epic metal. It all coalesces beautifully in what might go down as the best thrash song of this decade, “Not Your Slave”. The riff will make Dave Mustaine jealous; hell, the whole song feels like Megadeth on steroids. It’s a banger of the best kind, with a sound and feel that are eminently classic.
Really, aside from a somewhat subpar first half of the album (tracks 1 and 4 are merely good in comparison to the whole), there is little to pick apart on Rise to Power. Battlecross have seemingly figured out their issues on album number to create one of the best thrash albums in a long time. With a fantastic replay value and a high riff per second ratio, Rise to Power is sure to win over a lot of new fans for the band. (Nicholas Senior)
August 15, 2015
The thrash revival shows yet more signs of life
For those of us that grew up in the 1980s and have been enthralled by the primal music of thrash metal ever since, the last few years have been fallow ones.
The big four are still around, but for one reason or another haven’t fired on their full thrash cylinders for a while now (Anthrax in particular have made excellent records, but they aren’t thrash, the same goes for some of Megadeth’s work) and the new breed – for example the UK’s Evile or the U.S.’ Diamond Plate – never quite came through as we might have hoped.
Recently, though, there’s been signs of thrash life. The time does seem right for the venerable old genre to make a comeback. For one thing we’ve got Slayer back, Exodus – who arguably carried the torch better than anyone but were hamstrung by the fact their former singer was likely to say stupid shit on stage at any moment – are still here, Machine Head sell by the bucket load and Megadeth are to play Wembley Arena on their autumn UK run.
All that being said, it needs a modern band to come through and shake things up. Step forward Battlecross.
Not that the Michigan mob are particularly new. This is their fourth record since forming in 2003, but it does seem like they are as well placed as any to make the grade.
There is a confidence about “Rise To Power” which indicates as much, and whilst this owes more than a debt to Slayer (something the band acknowledge themselves) it is shot through with a modernity that gives it real crossover potential.
Things start pretty much as you would expect, in a swirl of bluster and noise, with the brutal “Scars” but this is no pile of retro tribute rubbish. Tracks like the groove filled and brilliant “Not Your Slave” nod at their heroes, then add in a dash of Lamb Of God and race off with the spoils.
Much of this is singer Kyle Gunther’s doing. He might be the bands third singer, but his work here is excellent, with a real aggression about songs such as spoiled, which takes its riff from a combination of Iron Maiden’s first two albums and Motley Crue’s “Looks That Kill.”
In general “Rise To Power” makes its point quickly, and doesn’t concern itself with long passages. Only a couple of its number clock in at longer than four minutes, and it’s mantra seems to be “get in, get out and bludgeon.” “Bound By Fear” summons up all kinds of evil and the twin guitar work that ushers in “Despised” hides real anger in its classic metal stylings.
“The Path” which bookends what is a brilliant record, adds some lilting acoustics, but the suspicion that it would quite like to rip your head off is still there, and the track is basically a manual as to how modern thrash metal should sound.
As this is the album in general. It’d be wrong to say they don’t write ’em like this anymore. It’s fair to say they haven’t for a few years. Battlecross, like the title says, are a band on the rise.
August 10, 2015
Battlecross are not a band that minces words musically. If the lengths of their last album and their latest are anything to go by, which are roughly 37 minutes and 36 minutes respectively, then it would seem that their tolerance for anything that isn’t absolutely killer is quite low. Rise to Power is a living, breathing testament to that low tolerance level. It is a lean, mean, ass-kicking machine that doesn’t want to quit kicking your ass until there’s nothing left for it to kick. There’s no pageantry or gimmicks to be found here, only driving, satisfying music.
The band have sharpened their compositions to the point that they cut through anything and everything that isn’t necessary. Their mix of thrash and death metal elements leaves very little room for anything that isn’t exactly what they want to communicate to the listener. Every song on this record is a force to be reckoned with. Whether the band are laying down riffs that will have you banging your head until your neck is broken or melodic sections that will bring an extra wet tear to your eye, something is always there to reaffirm just why the listener is there in the first place. The percussion isn’t slacking, either. They keep up the pace effortlessly and add color to the tracks, but then again, it’s not surprising that in a band so heavily influenced by thrash the drums would be something that were paid special attention to.
Though every song is solid, there are standouts that would definitely be the songs to suggest to someone who’s thinking of checking out this record. “Not Your Slave” has bouncy riffing that sees the band locking into more than a few meaty grooves throughout the song. Then you have “Blood and Lies”, which opens with a foreboding acoustic guitar arrangement that leads into an all out aural assault that culminates in a down, dirty and muddy breakdown. Album closer “The Path” hits hardest, however, with a somber acoustic intro leading into riffs that feel like they were forged by the gods themselves. It’s also home to the best breakdown on the entire LP. When it hits, it will have you playing air guitar and tapping your foot simultaneously. It’s a great closer to the album that leaves you feeling just as enthused as when the opener “Scars” began.
The song “Bound by Fear” has the golden line, “In this game that we all play, you must win or die.” This line serves as both Rise to Power‘s mantra and the bands personal mission statement. The only roads open to Battlecross are complete failure or complete dominance. There is no in-between for them, which makes their hunger for victory nearly insatiable. It keeps the band striving for the tightest, most lean product they can possibly distribute. With this album, the band have taken their intolerance for bullshit to the next level, making it well known that nothing will stop them as they set out to accomplish their goal to make music that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.
August 5, 2015
For a band that took their damn time putting out their first full-length, Michigan’s Battlecross sure have started to churn things out these days. 2015’s Rise to Power is the band’s fourth record in five years, and given the amount of time the band spends on the road, it’s hard to imagine how they’ve found time to write that much music. Rise to Power continues down the band’s now well-trodden path of blending rethrash with melodeath sensibilities, though it’s a little lighter than the band’s previous works. From the first listen, Rise to Power is quite appealing, coming off as an accomplished synthesis of a wide range of styles that somehow manages to avoid being derivative.
But while the album initially presents well, spending further time on Rise to Power soon reveals its nature. Battlecross aren’t a carbon copy of any one particular band, but are quite literally dictionary-definition generic – Rise to Power is an unsubtle combination of the vast majority of styles circulated in the last fifteen years of modern American metal. If the idea of “metal in a nutshell” is appealing to you, you’ll love Rise to Power. You’ll hear everything from rethrash d-beats, sparkling, ’80s-a-la-Black Dahlia Murder melodies, and snappy djent-implicative breakdowns to wimpy, “atmospheric” dissonance, shoehorned acoustic breaks, and shameless At The Gates worship. Listening to Rise to Power is a bit like eating the raw ingredients of a recipe all at once – you (sort of) taste all the flavors, but you don’t get any of the nuance or cohesion of a fully cooked dish. While the band’s metal vocabulary is comprehensive, most of us would rather delve more deeply into one of those areas rather than hearing them simultaneously jammed together.
Despite the criticisms, Battlecross still have a lot going for them. The riffs are technical, hooky, and fun, and the songs’ concise lengths encourage repeat listens. Rise to Power avoids the all-too-common pitfalls of long-windedness and overproduction; the guitars in particular maintain a refreshing rawness and the breakdowns, while heavy, don’t sound like they’ve been massaged into Joey Sturgis-caliber perfection. The band may not be particularly noteworthy in their own right, but they’re at least excessively competent. And as the band’s early tenures on Mayhem Fest and every opening slot on every tour ever have demonstrated, Battlecross are fast becoming one of the prototypical modern American metal bands. If they’re the kind of band that’re going to be the face of fighting the claim that metal is “gray, bald, and fat,” then Battlecross are certainly up to that challenge.
But by and large, this is metal by numbers; even accounting for its seamless and dynamic playing, Rise to Power still comes across as pedestrian. Maybe it’s the tired, flavorless themes, or the excessive reliance on grooves and tropes, or the band’s overzealous promotional approach bleeding over into the music and painting their product more like OxiClean than a metal record. Using the term “merchants” to describe a band usually feels a little odd, but in the case of these neothrash peddlers, it feels pretty apt. Ultimately, power isn’t achieved by simply emulating those that have ruled before. Battlecross may have nailed the strength component of power, but they lack the charisma and fear needed to back that power up.
July 15, 2013
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June 25, 2013
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