There are two reasons I do this. The first and most important reason is because I love music. The second reason is because every now and again, I am totally and pleasantly surprised. Let me cut to the chase before we get into the minutiae – Battlecross’ new album “War of Will” readily fulfills both of those reasons.
Battlecross was one of those bands I wanted to like but didn’t. I liked their ideas on the genre and what they stood for musically, but “Pursuit of Honor” didn’t execute up to that potential. Something was missing, and all I could do was hope that with time and trial and error, Battlecross would put the pieces together. Heck, the band had to be worth something; their poster appeared in the background of arguably the greatest SportsCenter commercial ever made (along with a surprising Goatwhore appearance, if you look closely.)
Now, “War of Will.” Like magic, Battlecross found the mystical switch and turned it on. This album is much more mature, exceptionally variable and less balanced, which in this case is a good thing. Where the band could formerly be accused of, to quote Bart Simpson, “smashy smashy,” “War of Will” is more like a bouquet synthesized out of Battlecross, Unearth and Blackguard.
The adventure begins with the opening track “Force Fed Lies” which brings adrenaline with screaming guitar forms, dropping into a Texas Hippie Coalition chug and transforming back before it’s all over. For those who’ve heard Battlecross before, “Force Fed Lies” is an eye-opening revisit. For those who are new to the band, the song is revelatory.
This is followed by “Flesh and Bone” and the second cut impresses on the same level as the first. One wonders where all this talent had been brewing, as axe man Hiran Deraniyagala explodes with arcing artistry in a gleeful exhibition of talent and instrument. There is a mismatched grace in his soloing when compared to the rest of the song, but the juxtaposition works as an exploration of Deraniyagala’s skill in emotive composition.
Looking through the macro lens, what impresses most about “War of Will” is the increase in well-measured tempo. For past efforts, a song like “Beast” would’ve gotten away on an uncontrolled trample, but for “War of Will” the reins are held fast, settling the song into a paced but still powerful trot. This is just one example of the larger profile of Battlecross’ newfound maturity.
It is worth noting that the change in headspace isn’t totally uniform. There are still tastes of home, so to speak, in the form of “Get Over It” and “Never-Ending Night” which aren’t equipped with as much of the band’s new dynamic, or are bogged down in blasted-out vocals that overwhelm the listener. But those moments are in the minority, and even gemstones come out of the ground with dirt and imperfections. No big deal.
Just when I think I’ll never be surprised again, that I’ve heard everything every band will ever be, and have a concept of what every album sounds like before I ever hear it, I am humbled again by the shifting sands of the artistic universe. “War of Will” is a coming-of-age experience for Battlecross, a grown-up, developed and masterful album by a band who has turned the corner.