Vera : Battlelore has always been a band I enjoyed to watch in a live situation - the way they got away with some Viking-alike swords dressed in coats of mail was quite diverting - but musically I was not really impressed. It was proved again when I had to review their former effort 'Evernight', suffering of a weak production and in the end it could not convince me at all. Things have changed now for the better! A bit to my surprise, I listen with more satisfaction and raising joy to their new effort 'The Last Alliance'.
One of the main striking points appears to be the sound: this time it is extremely well! It is no coincidence: Dan Swanö was at the helm this time. It explains everything. But compositions have improved as well (especially, they are heavier, no Leaves' Eyes feel occurred) and vocals have been upgraded as well. Grunts of Tomi Mykkänen used to be quite one-of-a-dozen, now his growls have the nearest approach to Gorefest or Amon Amarth. Well, now that I dropped this name we can go all the way: I cannot help but think that the huge success of these Swedish Vikings has had a serious impact on Battlelore, resulting in adding a serious amount of death metal into their fantasy metal. For it cannot be ignored and you will all know by now: these guys and girls have a soft spot for Tolkien, Middle-Earth and Lord of the Rings. The only thing is that Battlelore evolved into a band to reckon with. Female vocals of Kaisa Jouhki always came over as very soft, I nearly could avoid a yawn when she was singing. This is improved too. Anyway, I can live with it. Another plus is the return of clean male vocals. Since Tomi took over the torch of Patrick Menander, he cut loose in ferocious growls, but finally it was quite monotonous. Fortunately they upgraded this item too. You understand that all these changes surely have an impact when listening to 'The Last Alliance'.
Okay, in brief, initially Battlelore does not distinct itself from the masses. 'Third Immortal' brings a smile on my face when Tomi growls the title, but furthermore we are only graced by lovely female vocals, lots of keyboards, epic, bombastic layers and any vocal harmonies. 'Guardians' starts with charming acoustic guitars and appears to be slower all over the lines, eventually ending up as a quite mellifluent track. The first surprise comes with 'The Great Gathering'. Here we have some delicious Jan-Chris De Koeijer (Gorefest) allied grunts, while guitarists Jussi Rautio and Jyri Vahvanen seem to be fervent pupils of the Amon Amath legacy. Some choirs, a bellicose timbre and a perfect acceleration soon leaps to the eye. This is prolonged in 'Voice Of The Fallen' where grunts and lovely vocals form a strange yet superior unity. A bit like Amon Amarth; coming up with a female guest vocalist. Impossible to imagine, yet… The mid-paced epic 'Exile The Daystar' has a long quiescent part with female vocals, but the Viking roar which is next and the dramatic arrangements finally passing into sober piano notes are quite engrossing. A ballad! It could not be missing. Well, it is a nice one. 'Daughter Of The Sun' sounds like a narrative fairytale enriched with strings, but later on the groovy Gorefest grunts rule again. It is a serial of surprises, this record. We have repetitive guitar notes in 'Awakening', quite impressive. And next to it we have a catchy song. 'Epic Dreams' brings a sunny greet to fellow compatriots Amorphis due to its amazing clean vocal harmonies. This surely turns out great, especially when some grunts join in later. 'Moontower' reminds me title-wise of Dan Swanö's solo CD, it includes any folk alike passages. And to occlude we have a melancholic slow song 'The Star Of High Hope' which made me conclude, due to its plucking guitars, 'Battle Hymns' eruption and grunts, that Battlelore is not only based on image and a jolly performance. This will not pass unnoticed. They will be part of the Finnish Fire tour in the fall with Korpiklaani.
Do purchase the limited edition, since you can see the band playing at Metal Female Voices Fest 2007 in Belgium on this bonus DVD.