At the intersection of Blind Guardian and Manilla Road lies Greece’s Battleroar—epic paeans to battle and heroes, historical tales of Ye Olden Days, infectious guitar leads, soaring melodies, bombastic choirs…
Codex Epicus is the band’s fifth full-length, and their third for Italian trad-metal flag-wavers Cruz del Sur, which is the perfect home for a band of Battleroar’s style and caliber. Their last effort, 2014’s Blood Of Legends, thoroughly impressed my compatriot Professor Obstkrieg—although, I must admit that I was a bit less enthusiastic about it. I thought Legends was certainly a solid effort, but also not quite firing on all cylinders, which was a problem I also had with its predecessor, 2008’s To Death And Beyond.
First, the positive: Codex has a strong batch of material to work from, with standouts in the eight-minute “The Doom Of Medusa,” the pomp-metal of “Kings Of Old,” and the grandiose “Sword Of The Flame,” the latter of which features guest vocals and guitar from The Man Himself, Mr. Mark “The Shark” Shelton of Manilla Road. This type of distinctly epic traditional metal is Shelton’s calling card, and his shadow looms large over everything Battleroar has done. To its credit, Codex Epicus does nothing to step outside of that shadow, and nor should it. If you’re going to be indebted, be indebted to greatness.
In turn, “The Doom Of Medusa” would fit comfortably on a Manilla Road album, with instantly hooky melodies balanced against its macabre, real-world inspiration—the wreck of the French frigate Méduse in 1816, and the subsequent abandonment and near-total death of 147 of her passengers and crew on an improvised raft. (These events inspired the Géricault painting The Raft Of The Medusa, which has been used as an album cover by bands as diverse as funeral doomsters Ahab, Irish punks The Pogues, and Sunset Strip cock-rockers Great White.) “Medusa” is handily the album’s strongest track, its centerpiece both figurative and literal, and it’s a fine example of Battleroar’s strengths in one convenient location—it’s epic, melodic, powerful in its historic focus, and emotive. Gerrit Mutz’ half-snarled “One hundred forty-seven SOULS…” is edged with the tragedy in those thirteen days at sea, while the chunky riffs beneath help heighten the drama.
And then, the negative: Codex Epicus is held back by a weak, unfortunately flat production that too often robs the band’s performances of the sparks truly necessary to set the flames burning at full power, making Epicus feel less energetic than its ambitions require it to be. Even in its best moments, the vocals are too prominent, the band too far beneath to really hold them up, and the whole of it in turn lacking that certain intangible ooomph that gets the heart unmistakably a-flutter, the toes unstoppably a-tapping, the ears undeniably a-pricked, and the fists uncontrollably a-waving… It’s not an insurmountable hurdle; Codex Epicus remains a very listenable album, but it feels a bit lackluster, like it’s lacking punch, missing a stouter guitar tone and more pounding drums, and maybe a few beats-per-minute too sluggish, so the whole of it never quite catches fire.
Still, production quibbles aside, Battleroar is working from a good template, and anyone in need of an epic metal fix should at least spin “The Doom Of Medusa” and “Enchanting Threnody.” Compared to the godlike bands that inspired them, Battleroar is still a few steps behind, but they’re gaining ground.