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After the dark and compelling epic narratives of Bal-Sagoth's previous two albums, the generally lighter and jollier direction taken on 'Battle Magic' comes across as quite a disappointment, and sees the band enter a comparative lapse in their career that's still greatly superior and infinitely more fascinating than that of many of their contemporaries. The album title should be revealing enough of this album's style for those in the know, and it does bear similarities to earlier and later metal albums that attempt something similarly epic and triumphal, most notably Turisas' later 'Battle Metal' that seems to take much of its influence from here.
'Starfire Burning...' saw an increase in the prominence of Jonny Maudling's keyboards, and here they are pretty much permitted to lead the way, second only to Byron Roberts' inimitable narration. While anyone approaching Bal-Sagoth for the first time will obviously find the lyrical focus to be the major make-or-break quality, it's the keyboards here that will allow fans to rate this album more specifically, and for the most part I almost hate them. Gone is the dark, brooding atmosphere, replaced with synthesised fanfares that seem to signal a perpetual state of victory, and there are some truly horrible fantasy touches in 'A Tale from the Deep Woods' and the seriously overlong 'Blood Slakes the Sand at the Circus Maximus' that remind me more of Disney than anything, on the whole making for my least favoured Bal-Sagoth album.
But there's still an awful lot to love about this release. Firstly, it's some more ludicrously pompous narrative epic metal performed by the masters, and any fantasy nerds who got a real kick out of the guitars quoting Basil Poledouris' 'Conan the Barbarian' score in the previous album will be as delighted as I was to hear it subtly reprised in the middle of 'Naked Steel.' Roberts' vocals still vary between a black metal rasp that sounds less appropriate in this jollier music, and his customary spoken style that also seems to be lacking its usual punch, but anyone approaching Bal-Sagoth from similarly over-the-top fantasy metal bands such as Rhapsody or Turisas will likely find this a more convenient point of entry than their darker material, though I found the latter a lot more satisfying.
1. Battle Magic
2. Naked Steel (The Warrior's Saga)
3. A Tale from the Deep Woods
4. Return to the Praesidium of Ys
5. Crystal Shards
6. The Dark Liege of Chaos is Unleashed at the Ensorcelled Shrine of A'Zura Kai (The Splendour of a Thousand Swords Gleaming Beneath the Blazon of the Hyperborean Empire Part II)
7. When Rides the Scion of the Storms
8. Blood Slakes the Sand at the Circus Maximus
9. Thwarted by the Dark (Blade of the Vampyre Hunter)
10. And Atlantis Falls...
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Battle Magic
2 Naked Steel (The Warrior's Saga)
3 Tale From The Deep Woods
4 Return To The Praesidium Of Ys
5 Crystal Shards
6 Dark Leige Of Chaos
7 When Rides The Scion Of Storms
8 Blood Slakes The Sand At Circus Maximus
9 Thwarted By The Dark (Blade Of The Vampire Hunter)
10 Atlantis Falls