|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: A. Niskala HooBee Oy|
|Record Label: Youngside||Country Of Origin: Finland|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website: HB|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 70%|
|Running Time: 38: 10|
You may possibly have seen this one coming: The Finnish symphonic metal band HB has released in the summer of 2011 an English version of its 2004 Finnish full length debut Uskon Puolesta under the new title The Battle Of God. Not that this is something we have not seen from HB before in that the group has gained renown for recording English equivalents of albums it first released in Finnish, as it did in 2008 with Frozen Inside (remake of Enne from 2006) and 2010 with The Jesus Metal Explosion (remake of Piikki Lihassa from 2008). And while we are on the subject, I would not bet against HB re-recording in the not so distant future an English version of its most recent album from 2010, Pääkallonpaikka. But that is a story for another day…
So how does The Battle Of God add up? Well, the album finds the group shifting gears musically by abandoning much of the trademark symphonic aspects to its sound and heading in the more straightforward metal and hard rock direction. Yes, missing are the big backing vocals and classical instrumentation the band is best known and replaced with a wall of upfront rhythm guitar. HB, of note, has not completely forsaken its symphonic ways - you will still find your share of symphonically done keyboards - but, otherwise, The Battle Of God proves the all around heavier work in comparison to what we have heard from the band in the past. The overall impression left, as a result, is that HB in its earlier years took the heavier approach only to later embrace a sound on the more symphonic side of things.
The Battle Of God breaks down into seven hard rockers, a worship rock piece and customary ballad. The heavier songs, obviously, are the albums highlight, with each bringing the quality that would allow it to stand out from the rest.
“Time Of Silence” and “Lost” highlight a riff driven mentality while “Love Me” shines with its thumping bass line and “Lust” as a result of its non-stop unrelenting tempo. “Find Out!” presents with a polished melodic hard rock sound and the albums title track a darker and more ominous mentality. Mysteriously, there is a song (the albums second) that goes “unnamed” in the track listing. I am not certain if this is a packaging glitch or that an English equivalent does not exist, but “unnamed” is a solid work presenting with some interesting time and tempo changes.
Of the two remaining tracks, we have a watered down worship rocker in “Hallelujah” and predictable keyboards based ballad, “Away From Home”. I tend to skip over both in that they are not up to the standards of the previously referenced heavier tracks (at least my opinion). I often find worship rock too contrived for my taste (worship METAL is another story), and if you are going to record a ballad wouldn’t it make better sense to do a hard rock ballad that better aligns with what is going on with the rest of the album musically?
And this brings us to the point I wish to make: Writing a review of an album of re-recorded material can prove problematic in that there are two factors to consider: First, is the group’s intention to offer either a different “take” of a previous work or make available an album that is out of print and difficult to obtain. HB, for instance, did not HAVE to re-record Uskon Puolesta and, as far as I can tell, only did so out of the goodness of their hearts and/or in order to please its fan base. So shouldn’t we be thankful to have The Battle Of God to begin with? Second, the need to still provide an analysis of such a project that is fair, honest and objective. It makes for a fine line that a reviewer must walk; hence, if I do seem critical please keep in mind that I am by no means ungrateful (or trying to be unfair) at the same time.
It has always been my opinion that vocalist Johanna Aaltonen is a special performer with a style perfectly suited for the symphonic HB metal sound. With the band heading in a heavier direction, the album finds her exhibiting her versatility by singing in a lower register- and perfectly aligning with the musical happenings at hand in the process.
Keyboardist Antti Niskala, whom I praised in my The Jesus Metal Explosion review as lending his “deft keyboard work (in) always highlighting and layering” (in order to) “add the right touch to each track”, puts forth the same impressive showing on The Battle Of God. The guitar team of “Bob” and “Sofia” offer a quality performance as well, at least on rhythm guitar (they nail the crunch needed for a metal album), but lead guitar proves elusive in that the two offer only one guitar solo- and a very good one at that on “Find Out!”. And this is the major critique as it relates to The Battle Of God in that perhaps HB could have stretched more from an instrumental standpoint and better exhibited its choice musicianship.
Choice would also be the best way to describe production in that what we have here is the near perfect union of guitars and keyboards. Bass received a prominent mix as well.
Track By Track
“Time Of Silence” jump starts to full on momentum, with a snarling rhythm guitar and punishing low-end upholding its distance. Things even out somewhat as the song encounters its smoothers verses only to have initiative return for the all out muscle that is its heavy hitting chorus. It does not get much heavier as far as HB is concerned. Lyric snippet:
Save me from myself
I cannot tell what’s best for me
Save me from myself
For You are all I’ll ever need
Save me from myself
I cannot live without Your love
Save us from ourselves
Please help us see what we have done
As previously referenced, the albums second was not given a name. “Unnamed” runs the gamut of speed metal based riffs with complementary double bass to calmer moments upheld by polished keyboards to a passage even featuring a doom-ish rhythm guitar. The only drawback, and this is where the song almost loses me, comes in the form of an occasional rap breakdown. Where do they come up with this stuff? Irregardless, “Unnamed” works in that the good far outweighs any potential bad. Lyric snippet:
In beginning’s start
At the end of ends
There is only one
Who knows everything
Sees my whole being
Lifts me from the ditch
He keeps walking on
Helping His people
“The Battle Of God” is another cruncher. Hitting every bit as hard as “Time Of Silence”, the albums title track emphasizes full on guitars joined with perfectly placed symphonic keyboards. When the song breaks out, it is for a decisive chorus giving rise to an almost anthem-like feel. A darker element is added in the form of ringing bells during the instrumental section. Lyric snippet:
The battle of God needs the strongest of hands
The bravest is he who declares where he stands
So come all ye faithful, you heroes of God
Die to the world, be alive in Christ
You cannot make it without God
Turn to Him in all your want
He forgives you everything
Gives a brand new beginning
“Love Me” delivers a mid-paced crunch, with a slugfest of guitars leading the way from the get go. Keyboards play a forward role as the song enters its verses only to have initiative return as things explode for a riff driven chorus (staunch, unwavering and driven of power). Instrumentally, things start to a bass guitar solo before impetus picks up in upbeat fashion at the end. Lyric snippet:
Don’t you live me no more?
I’m so afraid I failed
Would you hold me, my Lord?
For days and nights I prayed
Please God, hear me
Don’t you love me?
Don’t you no more?
I’m so afraid I failed
Would you hold me, my Lord?
For days and night I prayed
After opening to four strong heavy hitters, the album makes a left turn for the contrived worship rocker “Hallelujah”. Contrived is the key word in that I cannot get into this one, whether it is the predictable acoustic and keyboard leanings and every bit as forced layered chorus. Yes, the message cannot be questioned and I can see others embracing this, but I tend to pass. Lyric snippets:
Our Holy God
For all living things you are the Creator
Thanks for who you are
I am grateful for the things you have done
All saints sing praises unto our God
There is no greater love than His love
“Lust” represents a return to a heavier rock heading. Short but pointed at three and a half minutes, the song kicks up quite the storm with its decisive mentality and front to back muscle-laden momentum. Keyboards, in contrast, help to add a calming effect while rhythm guitars carry the instrumental moments. Lyric snippet:
Your tongue will lead you with a dreadful might
Your mind will travel further from the light
Your thoughts will wonder deeper to the right
They are lusting, thinking its their right
Throw some sand in your eyes
If you cannot watch without
Feeling lust for things
You should not even think about
“Lost” is by far the albums best effort. Pounding riff action defines this one, staunchly driven and unyielding but giving rise to some catchy epic flavorings in the process. An expertly done chorus establishes a flowing - almost sweeping - milieu. We also get some creative instrumental stretches as the song briefly descends into a jazzy-bass-fusion interlude. Lyric snippet:
You gave power, made me a beauty
You gave all things I could have hoped for
You were better, so much better than others
Yes, I knew, I could not do to you
You were my brother, my lover
Faith, hope, like no other
Companion with strength and wisdom
“Find Out!” backs off somewhat from the guitar focus in order to take a melodic hard rock approach. Yes, acoustic guitars and pronounced bass lines lay the foundation, but it is the underpinning guitars that define things, such as during the emotionally charged chorus. The song also shines instrumentally in that we are treated to the albums lone guitar solo. And what a solo it is- fluid, riveting and full of form. I do not know which of the guitarist performed this, but he/she should cut loose more often in this manner.
Seek and you’ll find out!
Maybe today will be your time?
Could Jesus still wipe out all the tears you cried?
Everything you hold inside?
There’s no need to hide now
He can see straight in to your heart
Lifts up your life and brings you close to God
Things close on a low note with the ballad “Away From Home”. This one brings a predictable feel not unlike “Hallelujah” in that it proves a keyboard based ballad with corresponding orchestration and acoustic guitar. No, not terrible, but I cannot help but think a sturdier hard rock ballad would have worked better- at least in light of the musical direction presented by the albums stronger material. Lyric snippet:
Each of us receives a chance to
Set our faith in God up high
He’s our only hope of true salvation
I saw His eyes gazing up unto the skies
His lips searching for words that would be right
Wondrous Father, you who live in Heaven high
Give me Your strength, I need You here by my side
Track Listing: “Time Of Silence” (4:45), “unnamed” (3:09), “The Battle Of God” (4:36), “Love Me” (4:47), “Hallelujah” (4:40), “Lust” (3:32), “Lost” (3:56), “Find Out!” (4:23), “Away From Home” (4:16)
Johanna - Lead Vocals
Bob - Guitar
Sofia - Guitar
Antti - Keyboards
Tuomas - Bass