Pick Your Rock and Metal

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Battlecross defy genre conventions to deliver contemporary metal excellence as they 'Rise to Power'

GENRES  - they're designed to pigeonhole bands, shuffle them into easily defined cubbyholes, where fans can sit down in some sort of comfortable haze, with no real need to think about what the act's intent was when sitting down to write and record music.

And, over the many years of reviewing and interviewing hard rock and metal acts they almost universally don't recognize the category they are allocated by lazy journos and internet trolls.

Sure, they might acknowledge influences, tip a nod to such and such form of metal, but they seem non-plussed when some writer puts them within a genre with nary a thought to what that actually means.

It also leads to the most awful form of metal snobbery, where narrow-minded dweebs leap to label bands 'sell-outs' should they dare deviate from their allocated metal cupboard.

That is why it is so refreshing to come across an act that crosses genres, admits their influences and says to hell with pre-conceptions.

Such is the case with Battlecross as they smash down any labels that may have been appended to their sound following 2013's 'War of Will'.

This month's release of 'Rise to Power' sees them record an album that they wanted to hear, not to a template someone else might expect them to record.

"Going into this record we had more freedom in the sense that we were able to say well, people like what we write, so let's just write what we like," said bassist Don Slater. "We never really want to do the same thing twice.

"We want to play the riffs that we want to hear, and we just want to keep building on our experience and raising the bar," adds guitarist Tony Asta. "No one is handing us anything. We've always been about putting the work in, and we couldn't be prouder of what we've achieved with Rise To Power."

Have they pulled that off? Yes, in  bucketloads. Yes, their thrash roots are clear, there are death metal influences, there is even a brief flirtation in the lead work with jazz/funk. In other words they seem to have said "fuck convention, let's have some fun".

It works on many levels: musically there is a variety of approaches to songs, solos, structure and arrangements; lyrically there is a sense of realism, a sense that the words mean more than just posing and posturing, something

And, that's something Kyle "Gumby" Gunther is clear about - the personal element in writing words to accompany the aggression on display.

"I firmly believe you can overcome any obstacles you want to, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy," he said. "I wrote the song 'Absence' about my son, because he's four years old and I've been away on tour for literally half of his life, and when he won't talk to me on the phone it's worse than any of the crappy things I've been called in my life, but this is the life I chose.

He also takes on those who pose as victims and attempt to manipulate others on 'Not Your Slave', and on "Despised" he faces his "fuck ups" head on, acknowledging that mistakes have been made but refusing to let them destroy him, and it matters to him that he speaks from a place of truth.

 "You have to be accountable for what you say, and now people are listening to what I say, so I have a social obligation to say something that's worthwhile.

"If I didn't believe 100% in what I put out there or if I felt that maybe I was full of shit then I'd be the first to say that you shouldn't buy our album, you shouldn't buy our shirts or come to our shows."

But, this release shows that Battlecross have harnessed hard won experiences, turned them into positive musical expressions - 'Not Your Slave' and 'Spoiled' are brimful of boulder sized bombast, with no sense of pretentiousness.

Tony Asta and Hiran Deraniyagala turn in some tightly focused lead and rhythm work between them - layering sounds in an all-out assault, such as on the breakneck 'The Climb' which is more 'death' than thrash, all aided by new sticksman Alex Bent.

Producer Jason Suecof (The Black Dahlia Murderer, Job For A Cowboy) seems to have pushed the band to perform at the highest level - he even adds a solo of his own to 'The Path'.

Throughout this release is evidence that Battlecross have stepped up to the next level in their progression - the power and passion on display is compelling and creative.

But what of the genre? Throughout this review it's hard not to ascribe a tune as having death elements, or thrash elements - even the band themselves are happy with the title 'blue collar thrash'.

However, take the release as a whole and there's not one single term to describe it. Suffice to say then we shall leave it to be described as damn fine modern metal.

Rise to Power is out now on Metal Blade Records
Review by Jonny

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