On their last album “War of Wills,” Battlecross composed “Flesh and Bone,” one of the all-time great metal songs regardless of genre. That’s right, I said ‘all-time.’ (If you disagree, I will treat you like Marvin the Paranoid Android treats the living mattresses.) It was a song that could play in perpetuity on repeat without tiring the listener out, one of the sublime bites of music that combined unparalleled savagery with rhythmic discipline and powerful hooks. The issue is, how does the band follow up on such a supreme accomplishment?
Their answer is the new album “Rise to Power” and the self-described ‘blue collar thrashers’ continue on the warpath of twenty-first century thrash with another effort that sounds a little like Overkill on steroids (which is itself a lofty claim, since Overkill was fairly steroidal in comparison to their contemporaries.)
Now this begs the question – does “Rise to Power” have a song on it that is the equal or dare we even suggest superior, of “Flesh and Bone?” The short answer is no, but that alone doesn’t mean that “Rise to Power” is diminished as a whole.
If you crack a small smile at the over-the-top feel of “Rise to Power,” that’s okay. Battlecross seems to demonstrate an implicit understand that thrash is an over-the-top genre, long steeped in intentional ridiculousness and perfectly apt for trying to inject nine pounds of personality into a two-pound bag.
Like all Battlecross efforts, there are singles on this new stack of songs that rise above the common din of their brethren. Once or twice an album, the Michiganders (finally got to use that in context, yes!) put together the pieces in just the right order and really show the fans the full arsenal of their talent. For this album, it’s “Scars” and “Despised.” The former leads the album with a surge of electric fury, the customary Battlecross hook riffs displayed prominently over the percussive gunfire that punctuates the pulse of every track from beginning to end. The later shows the more artistic side of Battlecross’ thrash sensibilities, as we are subjected to a mix of cadences ranging from full throttle mayhem to headbanging cannon fodder. It’s a song that probably doesn’t sound like much to the casual observer, but thrash aficionados will come to dissect the layers and see the orchestration of the sections come to life.
The other edge of that sword is that while the band can transcend in multiple moments, the remaining moments are simply average. Many of the cuts on “Rise to Power” contain all the requisite elements of modern thrash, but are left wanting for personality or flair. The split audio during the opening of “Spoiled” is a great gimmick that’s easy to fall for, but a song can’t be carried solely by a gimmick and the early promise of the song’s throwback riff is ultimately unfilled. Same goes for “Blood and Lies” which feeds us a great build-up conjuring images of the high-concept thrash classics of yesteryear, but then sort of fizzles out into just another Battlecross song.
The good parts of “Rise to Power” outnumber the bad and average on the whole, though perhaps only by a narrow margin. Thrashers who just can’t consume enough will appreciate the excellent pacing and to-the-hilt noisy arrangements, which have become the hallmark of the band’s best material. Whether or not this record is an unmitigated success is a different question and will really only be resolved by the predilections of reach individual listener.