Ahhh, 2011 – the year To download and Sonisphere really fought for UK rock festival supremacy, BLACK SABBATH reformed and Mine Caputo came out and started the transition. It was also, until last Friday, the last time BATTLE released a studio album, in the form of Sentenced. Nine months later, Finnish symphonic metallers went on an indefinite hiatus and, despite reforming five years later, were (three gigs aside) barely active. Now though, they’re officially back with The return of the shadowtheir seventh studio album and first since the reunion, released via Napalm discs.
Considering the gap between the releases – and the fact that they weren’t a band for nearly half that time – it seems a bit unfair to compare The return of the shadow to anything previously released, but the line-up hasn’t changed since their return; indeed, it has been constant since 2014. As such, one would hope that this would be at the same level as Sentenced, Every evening et al. Fortunately, it does. Opening track Minas Morgul is the audible equivalent of slipping on a pair of shoes you haven’t worn in a while; it doesn’t take long for you to remember why you loved them. With Kaisa Jouhki and Tomi Mykkanenthe voices dance together as they always have, it’s clear that BATTLE haven’t missed a beat. elven king floats with ease and grace, Keeper of the fire brings the heaviness with its soaring riffs and keyboards and real dragons is a dark and brooding adventure to savor.
On top of that, the band added the lost lands EP on the end, three titles written just before their hiatus which have not yet seen the light of day. A different feel to the previous nine titles, the triumvirate of Avather, Caves of the Forgotten and Isenmouth present a group facing an uncertain future. Without any indication of their feedback, the tracks are more reflective and soft than some of their other materials; presumably they would have been released as the final chapter had the band not reformed.
There is, however, one area that needs improvement throughout the album, and that is the production; while clear enough not to blur the instruments, it lacks a brutality which as a result leaves the album feeling safe and a bit tame. It’s not an easy thing to succeed in symphonic metal given the grandeur and brilliance the genre brings, but if things hadn’t been so smooth, each track would have had a lot more impact.
For those who were a fan of BATTLE until then, expect a welcome return to form. For those who do not know them but who like the material of TURISAS, DELAIN, ENSIFERUM and the works of JRR Tolkienthis set will be easy to pick up and enjoyable to listen to. The return of the shadow is almost the perfect comeback album, strong in both musicality and lyrics; if BATTLE get the right production quality on the next release, there could be no limit to how much their stock could increase.
The Return Of The Shadow is available now via Napalm Records.
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