“Doombound” is the sixth full-length album from the Finnish Tolkien interpreters BATTLELORE. Their style builds on a Power Metal fundament, but they have always incorporated many symphonic keyboard elements and a little Extreme Metal influences, mainly by adding growls. This trend continues on “Doombound”. This time around, BATTLELORE are interpreting the story of the Children of Húrin, one of Tolkien’s saddest tales and that can be heard in the music. Already on their last album, “The Last Alliance”, I heard the signs of a more mature approach than their earlier albums that have been a little more over the top. The comparisons to RHAPSODY OF FIRE are now completely irrelevant, because what is offered here is a grand, yet melancholy and dignified collection of songs.
At the front of BATTLELORE’s music, the cooperation between female vocals (Kaisa Jouhki) and male growls and spoken parts (Tomi Mykkänen) can be heard, as always. This concept has become used more and more often in bands jumping on the Gothic bandwagon, but BATTLELORE have worked with this concept for a long time and know how to do it right. The two voices complement each other well and create variation and a constant mix of intensity and melody. I also feel that Tomi Mykkänen has worked on his Death Metal-inspired growling, which is now much more controlled and intense than earlier, when it could sometimes sound more like random bawling.
The lead guitar and especially the keyboards share the limelight with the vocals. The melodies created by these instruments are sometimes folk-tinged and sometimes even a touch ambient. The keyboard also works a lot with recreating string instruments, like violins. However, a real cello is introduced at the end of the album, in the last two songs and adds another level to the symphonic elements. The main sound of the guitars and keyboards does not change much throughout the album, which ties it all together. Even if new melodies are introduced, they all have a distinct sound to them.
These parts of the music are high in the mix, which is well-done. It is rather polished, but gives room for the distorted rhythm guitar and the booming of the drums. These instruments together with the bass play a larger role than one might think on this album. The keyboard and vocals steal much of the attention, but it is the solid drum rhythms and frequent changes of tempo, rhythm and riffing that keep the continuity of the melodic structures from feeling monotonous. There is variation in the melodic section as well, for example the energetic blip-bloping in the beginning of “Fate of the Betrayed”, but many of the highlights come from variations in intensity. “Bow And Helm” is the best song on here, with its drive forward, speedy riffing and story-telling whispers, being repeated in growling. “Kärmessurma” is also an example of an intense song, with Mykkänen at his best in a furious assault with interesting placing of the growling lines in a way which sounds unorthodox, almost a bit like Modern Metal, which I normally dislike. Anyway, it works very well here. At the other end of the intensity spectrum is the title track. Slower tempo and crushing, bass and rhytm guitar leads the thoughts toward Doom Metal. All this is completed by great vocals and Maria Honkanen’s keyboards weaving epic layers of melody. “Doombound” works very well as a finishing epic and the band feels no stress, but lets the song unravel in that slow tempo. At the very end comes the instrumental outro “Kielo”, in which keyboard horns, flute and cello really shine together.
What weaknesses are there then? While Kaisa Jouhki sings very well, sometimes her voice sounds a little thin and that is further emphasized by the production. Most of the time though, the fragile sound of her voice singing melancholy lyrical lines makes a great contrast to Tomi Mykkänen’s battle-cries. Another thing that could have taken this album even higher would have been a little more work on some of the weaker tracks, or even exclusion of one or two. No song is bad in itself, but a few of them feel a little anonymous and therefore do not contribute that much to the whole.
Those complaints should still be regarding as the results of actively searching for the negative sides. All in all, this is a retelling almost worthy of Tolkien’s book, which is not to say little. It is also, without doubt, BATTLELORE’s best album to date. If they keep on going in this direction, I will be really excited about a new album from the Finns.
(Online February 7, 2012)