Released by: Nuclear Blast Records
Release date: November 3rd, 2017
Genre: Heavy/Power Metal
Yannis Papadopoulos – Vocals
Anton Kabanen – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Kasperi Heikkinen – Guitars
Máté Molnar – Bass
Sami Hänninen – Drums
1. Beast in Black
2. Blind and Frozen
3. Blood of a Lion
4. Born Again
5. Zodd the Immortal
6. The Fifth Angel
7. Crazy, Mad, Insane
8. Eternal Fire
9. End of the World
10. Ghost in the Rain
It’s always interesting to see what happens when an important songwriter for a well-established band suddenly splits up with his bandmates and goes his own way. In such a scenario, it’s interesting both to see what direction the remaining members will take with their sound, and also see what the departing member will do with any future projects. The latest case of this happening is with Anton Kabanen, main songwriter of Finnish heavy/power metal band Battle Beast for their first three albums. After having disagreements with his bandmates over which musical direction to take, following their third release, Unholy Savior, he left the band to pursue his own vision, while the remaining members decided to keet the band going. Two years later, Battle Beast has already released Bringer of Pain, their first album without Anton, and it proved to be a solid release that took the band in a catchier, more melodic direction, while Anton has started his own band Beast in Black, who is now set to release their debut, Berserker, in early November. I had high expectations for this album, as Unholy Savior is my favorite Battle Beast album to date, and I’d been waiting to see what Anton would do next. I’m happy to report, Berserker does not disappoint in the least, and manages to both continue with the sound established on Unholy Savior, while also continue to explore new territory, sometimes going in shocking directions, but somehow managing to make all of it work.
Anton’s songwriting has evolved quite a bit over the years, as Steel, the debut from Battle Beast, was largely an old school heavy metal album, where the guitars dominated and keyboards were very minor, but with the self-titled sophomore release, and especially with Unholy Savior, he started branching off into different sounds, adding in a ton of keyboards on the latter album especially, while also including more power metal influences, as well as some oddballs, like the surprising 80’s synth pop-infused track “Touch in the Night”. I was interested to see what direction he’d take with Berserker, with it being the beginning of a new band and all, but in the end it’s turned out to be a mostly logical continuation of what he had been doing in recent years, continuing to add in power metal elements as well exploring new sounds, sometimes going even further into pop territory than he had previously, all while writing some of the catchiest songs he has ever written. It really shows how much his songwriting has changed in just six years, because where Steel was very much a guitar driven album, Berseker still has moments where the guitars take over, but they’re largely more in the background, with the keyboards leading the way a lot of time. In fact, anyone who was turned off by the extensive use of keyboards on Unholy Savior is likely to be driven mad by this release, as the keyboards completely run wild most of the time, often teetering the line between extremely epic and incredibly cheesy 80’s style synths, but I find they’re used very effectively throughout the album and help add to the catchiness and wild fun of the songs. This is indeed, the catchiest and most melodic album Anton has written by far, and it’s also easily his most varied release, with everything from mid-tempo heavy metal, to slower melodic metal, speedy power metal tracks, a ballad and one rather surprising track which I’ll describe in greater detail later. For only having 10 tracks, Berserker certainly never fails to surprise, and yet perhaps the most surprising thing of all is how well everything works, with every song being entertaining in its own way.
One crucial aspect of this release is the vocals, and this is where Anton has made his biggest change, switching from female to male vocals, turning to Wardrum vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos, who has proven himself to have an incredibly wide range on this release. He manages to hit some incredibly high notes throughout, using everything from heavy metal wails to the kind of softer, pop-ish vocals current Battle Beast singer Noora Louhimo often uses, and he manages to emulate the latter with surprising effectiveness. He also gets to use some much deeper grunts at times, and some rather deep and powerful lower notes, as well as some extremely animated classic metal vocals. In short, when it comes to powerhouse vocals, he pretty much does it all on this album. Yet, on the rare occasions where he’s asked to sing more softly, he also manages to deliver there as well, especially on the closing ballad “Ghost in the Rain”, where he displays some excellent singing ability, while also putting in a very emotional performance. All in all, this is the kind of breakout performance that should really make listeners take notice of his talents, and throughout the album, he manages to enhance some already excellent songs.
Which brings me to arguably the most important aspect of any release, that being the songwriting. The album gets off to an excellent start with the self-titled track, which starts off with some great guitar work and wild screams, before the track speeds up and Yannis dominates with some deep grunts throughout the verses, which he then turns into some wild heavy metal wails during the chorus. Right away, he sets a strong impression, delivering some wildly entertaining vocals throughout the track, while musically the song is fairly up-tempo and is definitely one of the heavier tracks on the album, though keyboards and symphonic elements are still present. It’s an extremely catchy, wildly fun track that gets the album off to an excellent start. Next is the lead single “Blind and Frozen”, which for many fans was their first chance to hear the band, and it certainly sets a strong impression. It opens with some very cheesy keyboards before the lead guitars take over and it settles into a nice mid-paced groove throughout the verses. Right away, the song shows how keyboard driven the album will be, with some very cheesy but awesome 80’s sounding synths, which dominate the verses, while Yannis opens the track with some very soft, almost feminine sounding vocals, before opening up and going all out during the chorus, where he really showcases his talents. As expected, the chorus is extremely fun and catchy and is definitely one of the highlights of the album. But for me, the best part of the track is the instrumental section, which starts off with a nice guitar solo, before we get an extended synth solo where the synth has a very 80’s sound and is definitely cheesy, but very epic and brings a smile to my face every time. Towards the end of the track, we get the first signs of Yannis’ soft lower register, leading into the final run through the chorus. All in all, while the rest of the album is excellent, this track is for sure my favorite and is probably my absolute favorite song Anton has ever written.
After that, we get our first softer song in the album, with “Blood of a Lion”, a slower, keyboard-driven melodic metal track. I was initially thrown off by the sudden switch from more upbeat territory to something this calm and slow, but over time the track has grown on me, as Yannis uses some very effective soft vocals during the verses, while opening up with wilder vocals during the chorus, where the guitars kick in and the melodies are fantastic and very epic. The song gets heavier as it goes on, with guitars showing up during the second verse, though it’s still a fairly calm and melodic track overall, with the catchy chorus being its strong point. Next is “Born Again”, another softer track where the keyboards are even more dominant, and again while the verses are fun enough, it’s the chorus where the song really takes off, with Yannis going all out with over the top screams, which are extremely epic and greatly enhance an already fun and catchy track. One last track that falls into melodic metal territory is “Eternal Fire”, where the triumphant sounding keys give a very Sabaton feel, and it’s a very fun and upbeat track, which moves at a slightly faster pace than the other two tracks mentioned in this paragraph, but it’s still fairly mid-paced and very melodic, with an extremely catchy main synth line as well as an excellent chorus, where Yannis really shines. There’s also a nice guitar solo in the second half, but overall the keyboards are the highlight of the track, and the song has some incredible melodies all around, making it another one of my favorites.
Fans of speedy power metal have a few tracks to look forward to, the most obvious of those being “Zodd the Immortal”, a very speedy, hard-hitting track with some slightly thrashy guitar riffs. This is the one song on the album where I barely notice a keyboard presence, as instead, it’s very heavy and guitar driven, and it’s a fairly straight-forward but catchy power metal track, with great vocals, a solid chorus, and a nice guitar solo. It definitely feels like it would have fit in perfectly on Unholy Savior, though here it serves as a nice change of pace after a pair of slower songs. Right after that track is “The Fifth Angel”, another track which would have fit in great on Unholy Savior, with a nice blend of heavy guitars and cheesy, melodic keyboards. It’s another upbeat track with a very fun and catchy chorus, as well as probably the best guitar solo on the album. Lastly, “End of the World” is the most keyboard driven of the faster songs here, with an excellent main synth line, similar to “Eternal Fire”, except it’s a much faster track, and it does have some heavy guitar work during the verses, while Yannis is wild and awesome as always during the chorus, which is very catchy and fun as usual. Out of this group of tracks, this one is probably my favorite, since it comes the closest to the overall feel of the album, while still being very fast paced.
Finally, we have two more tracks to talk about, one being a ballad, the other being a total oddity. First up, closing ballad “Ghost in the Rain” is a very nice track which uses keyboards and soft guitars throughout to set the mood, while Yannis uses his softest vocals on the album, expertly switching from high to low notes, and he puts in a ton of emotion, making for an incredible performance that takes what could have been a fairly bland song and makes it an instant highlight. There’s a nice guitar solo in the middle, but it’s the vocals that drive the track, with the final run through the chorus, in particular, being absolutely stunning. Last, and not least, but certainly weird, we have “Crazy, Mad, Insane”, and I could see some fans thinking Anton must have been all of those things in order to write this track, as it’s certainly the last thing anyone would expect from him! Basically, it uses heavy electronic effects, some very cheesy sounding keyboards and dance rhythms throughout, while also using robot voices in the background at a couple key points, as well as using the kind of drums you’d be more likely to hear on a dance album than a metal album. In short, I’d best describe the track as some kind of hybrid between electropop rhythms and techno beats, which is just about the last thing anyone would normally want on a metal album, and yet somehow it works out brilliantly, with the chorus, in particular, being stupidly fun and catchy, and even the techno elements are used so effectively it all just kinda works, in a weird, warped way.
Overall, Berserker is an extremely fun and varied debut, which expertly blends together elements of heavy metal, power metal, melodic metal, and even techno, and it very much continues along the lines of Anton’s work with Battle Beast, while at times going in new and surprising directions. It’s the kind of album where some tracks are sure to turn off certain people, but everything is done extremely well, and it’s certainly going to appeal to a wide audience, just due to how incredibly varied the songs are. As a fan of Anton’s work over the years, I’d say this might be his best album to date, and fans of his should definitely be excited for Beast in Black. Highly recommended for fans of the first three Battle Beast albums, as well fans of heavy metal, power metal and anyone looking for a fun album with a wide mix of elements that all somehow come together in a weird way.
Written by: Travis Green