Epic heavy metal has a strong and consistent ally in the presence of Athens, Greece stronghold Battleroar. Mystic bards for grand fantasy-driven epics for nearly two decades, classic Dio-esque sensibilities are the draconic heart of the Battleroar experience regardless of the performers involved. That said their style leans towards the power metal end of the epic heavy metal spectrum rather than the doom metal side. The first decade of the band’s existence were defined by soaring Manilla Road influenced rhythms and an increasingly operatic series of performances from original vocalist Marco Concoreggi. This dramatic flair defined Battleroar as storytellers and earned constant mention in league with the best of (more active) Italian epic heavy metal population. Their second full-length ‘Age of Chaos’ continues to be a personal favorite in the sub-genre since release as well as a peak for that Mark I era of the band.
No less of an epic, and quite a sparkling stallion in it’s own right, ‘To Death and Beyond…’ was the breakthrough in terms of production, composition and a general introduction to greater pastures for Battleroar. It sounds like an absurd observation in hindsight but I felt the power metallic elements of their music on their 2008 record had begun to clash with the storytelling and ‘journey’ of the music. With such spectacle and pomp within lengthy tracks it was more an album about heavy metal than it was an epic tale. I love those types of albums too… but I didn’t end up buying it that year. From there a long six year break between releases followed due to a split with Concoreggi who took some other members along for his uhhh, H.P. Lovecraft inspired science fiction themed Christian metal band… due to personal conflict in the band.
As it turns out the victor in the storm was remaining founding member and guitarist Kostas Tzortzis. After cycling through vocalists until 2012 Battleroar landed upon a greater gift on high with the addition of Gerrit Mutz (Dawn of Winter, Sacred Steel) whose seasoned vocals provided greater skill, melodic sensibility, and a glorious tonal range well beyond previous albums. By 2014 ‘Blood of Legends’ the hype for the band had stayed true to the underground and so did Battleroar‘s sound adhere more closely to the gods of epic heavy metal. It was a brilliant album with more dynamic range in it’s mix and undeniable power in delivery. The nods to classic mid 80’s power metal on ‘Blood of Legends’ were numerous and brilliant alongside folk metal and orchestral elements. My expectations were fairly high heading towards ‘Codex Epicus’ though having discovered Sacred Steel in the downtime between albums, I could understand how folks felt like Mutz‘ vocal style really ‘took over’ the band’s personality.
For this record Battleroar have returned with their greatest strength of storytelling and in turn their massive Manilla Road influences (and collaborations, see: “Sword of the Flame”) are in impressive form throughout. The call and response of a grand chorus acts as melodic narration within many tracks, replacing the orchestrated sections and power metallic onus of ‘Blood of Legends’ with the old wizardry that popularized the band initially. Despite the regal jogging pace and persistent sword dance of lead guitars and Mutz‘ powerful voice, the gorgeous tone of Stavros Aivaliotis‘ bass performance is now more audible and made prominent in several songs. It is an exceptional refinement that also calls back to the band’s original vision.
As a full spin I felt like ‘Codex Epicus’ is about ten minutes too long and didn’t necessarily need “Kings of Old” or “Enchanting Threnody” when the re-recording of “Stronghold”, from their split with Holy Martyr, was already an appropriate enough finale. I’m all for an hour long opus but I felt a block of ‘less inspired’ songwriting was pushed towards the end of the album and the power tapers off at it’s end. This isn’t a huge deal but it does keep the album from edging out Gatekeeper‘s recent release for space within my mind. In terms of sound and style ‘Codex Epicus’ is relatively flawless and I hear a lot of brilliant Hellenic heavy metal inspiration in Tzortzis songwriting and guitar work.
“We Shall Conquer” was immediately a triumph from the first listen but the Gandalf-like entrance of Mark Shelton (Manilla Road) sung and co-penned “Sword of the Flame” makes the fellowship of ‘Codex Epicus’ even stronger. The trouble is that the segue in and out of the wizard’s spell is like an incredible seven minute window into another world. If any song can stand up to it, it’d be “Chronicles of Might” and I think without this early trio of songs ‘Codex Epicus’ wouldn’t be half as strong. Once I’d shaken off the fantasy of a Manilla Road album that sounded exactly like this I was able to appreciate the strength of the album as a follow-up to their Mark II era debut ‘Blood of Legends’. It is an essential listen for fans of epic heavy/power metal this year and admirable conquest in the Battleroar canon.
|Released||June 5, 2018|
|BUY/LISTEN on Cruz Del Sur Music’s Bandcamp!||Follow Battleroar on Facebook|
Epic Heavy Metal
Forging for an endless siege. 4.0/5.0
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