Artist: Battle Beast
Album Title: Circus Of Doom
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 21 January 2021
Back in 2017, I reviewed ‘Bringer Of Pain’, the fourth studio album of Battle Beast’s career. I didn’t however, review the 2019 follow-up ‘No More Hollywood Endings’. Put simply, I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Bringer Of Pain’ and so didn’t feel sufficiently compelled to explore further. Plus, the release also coincided with a break that I took in 2019 to recharge my reviewing batteries.
It’s now 2022 and, with renewed energy and dedication to my website, I felt that it was the right time to delve back into the world of the Finnish heavy metal sextet to see if I would be more impressed by their sixth offering, especially since the band continue to score number one album spots in their native Finland – you don’t do that sort of thing consistently if your output is lacking, surely?
It transpires that the band line-up remains unchanged for the third album in a row, meaning a certain level of consistency remains following the departure of their principle songwriter at the time, Anton Kabanan. As such, Battle Beast version 2022 remains comprised of vocalist Noora Louhimo, accompanied by guitarists Joona Björkroth and Juuso Soinio, bassist Eero Sipilä, drummer Pyry Vikki, and keyboardist Janne Björkroth.
As we all know, press releases are full of hyperbole, but here, I think we might have an early contender for the boldest, brashest statement of 2022:
“…if you are looking for your daily dose of symphonic heavy metal, that is also catchy, cheerful, theatrical, adventurous, groovy and enchanting, you can stop searching here and now.”
I came into this review with almost no expectations based on my last exposure to Battle Beast, but I must admit that ‘Circus Of Doom’ has turned out to be a pretty decent record with much to enjoy. It’s definitely better than ‘Bringer Of Pain’. But worthy of such an opening statement? Hmm…I’m not yet totally convinced, although I think much more highly of the album now than when I first listened to it, that’s for sure. A first listen left me feeling bored and unsure of whether I’d return and even complete this review. However, as is often the case, with repeated listens came greater understanding and a growing appreciation.
One of the initial hurdles on ‘Circus Of Doom’ is the opening title track. I can understand why they put it up front and central, but given its structure and overall sound, it isn’t the most obvious opening number. As the song’s title suggests, ‘Circus Of Doom’ has a hugely overt sense of theatre about it, as if it was stolen straight from a West End or Broadway rock opera. Or perhaps from their compatriots Nightwish at their most frivolous. The gentle music box intro gives way to a strong riff and powerful rhythms but from there, the orchestration and keys are all over the song. Choral arrangements, tinkling keys, and lush layers of synths bathe the song in a sense of bombast, but it threatens to dilute the heavy metal elements ever so slightly. Admittedly Noora Louhimo puts in an authoritative performance behind the mic and, with repeated spins, the heaviness of the guitars does come through. And crucially, there’s an infectious quality about the song that makes it impossible to maintain any dislike for it. I’m slowly converted and I’m now of the opinion that it’s a charming composition.
‘Wings Of Light’ is arguably the opening salvo that the record could have more sensibly led with. Mind you, it’s clear that Battle Beast want to showcase their increased variety, so leading with this cut might have been counterproductive on that score. It’s a full-on classic heavy metal song, with a slight power metal edge. The production shows its quality here too, as the drums that drive the song along at a brisk pace sound really powerful. I adore the lead guitar solo that emerges later in the track to compliment a hook-heavy chorus, making it quite the statement of intent.
You may already be familiar with ‘Master Of Illusion’ as it was one of the early forerunners released to the expectant fanbase ahead of release. And, I have to say that it remains one of my favourites. The nods to the 80s with the electronic drum sounds are a nice touch. However, it is the melodic strength of the song that carries it so well. The ear worms are vibrant and well executed, whilst there’s no let up in terms of the heaviness. Once again, the keys are bold, vibrant, and well placed, ensuring that there’s a richness to the song that can’t be ignored. Ten songs along this path and I’d not have complained.
If longer-term fans are worried that the overt power metal vibes have been completely ditched, then ‘Where Angels Fear To Fly’ should put those fears to rest. There’s a definite mainstream pop edge to the track, as well as more 80s influences, but the feel of the track is much more Euro power metal and less classic metal.
It’s not all positive however, as ‘Russian Roulette’ still leaves me cold. Of all the content on ‘Circus Of Doom’, this is where the cheese is at its most potent. It’s unashamedly 80s-influenced hard rock with a strong vein of pop running through it. Nope, this is just not for me, although lovers of the Eurovision Song Contest might disagree of course.
Thankfully, despite a couple of other tracks not quite hitting the heights of others (such as ‘The Road To Avalon’ which just feels a little unremarkable and a touch forgettable), the quality never again dips that low. ‘Freedom’ is a little suspect when it comes to the lyrical content, but there’s no denying the strength of the galloping rhythms in the verses, as well as the melodic interplay between the guitars and symphonic arrangements in the chorus; I say forget the toe-curling lyrics and instead immerse yourself in the driving pace and catchiness of the song.
The album ends on a high note though as far as I’m concerned. ‘Place That We Call Home’ is a full-on cinematic power metal anthem that many contemporary acts would have been delighted to write. I’m a sucker for double-pedal led choruses that are rousing, and here Battle Beast do their best to rival the likes of Rhapsody of old where this is concerned. It helps that, despite being less than four minutes long, it comes across as being far more epic than that, a fittingly rousing, grandiose closer to the album.
I’m always prepared to admit when I’m wrong and this is one of those occasions. My first draft, albeit written just in my mind, was much more different than what I’ve written here and I’m very pleased that this is the situation. With ‘Circus Of Doom’, I finally understand what the fuss has all been about with Battle Beast in many quarters of the metal world. I didn’t get it, but I do now. And while I’d not suggest that ‘Circus Of Doom’ is the perfect heavy/power/symphonic metal album, it is a highly professional affair. There is a whole lot to enjoy about it, and it is a great deal of fun too.
The Score of Much Metal: 86%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: