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Battlelore - Third Age...

Battlelore -  CD Review
Third Age of the Sun

CD Info
Label: Napalm Records
16 Tracks
Language: English

Since the metal world began, it seems that the works of author J.R.R. Tolkien have made an unlikely, yet suitable muse. From Led Zeppelin to Blind Guardian, countless metal bands have paid homage to Professor Tolkien’s influential books through their lyrics. But no band has taken it to the next level quite like Finnish metal band Battlelore. Dressed in full-on Lord of the Rings regalia when performing onstage, Battlelore opens the doors wide open to Middle-Earth and blends together the worlds of fantasy and reality.
After two unsuccessful attempts to release EPs, the band finally got lucky and released their first full-length album, …Where the Shadows Lie in 2002. The band’s second album, Sword’s Song, released in 2003, amidst the Lord of the Rings movie craze, brought the band great success and recognition. Performing at Lord of the Rings conventions, Battlelore has made their presence known among metalheads and Tolkien aficionados alike. To show what kind of a show they put on, a DVD of their unique performance was released in 2004.
However, 2004 brought other changes to the band when original male vocalist Patrik Mennander left the band to pursue his career in tattoo art, performing his final show with Battlelore at the RingCon (Lord of the Rings festival) in Germany that summer. Not only that, but founding member Miika Kokkola also departed from the band. Replacements were not hard to find, for bassist Timo Honkanen and male vocalist Tomi Mykkänen had already been playing on tour part-time with Battlelore. They were recruited as full-time members, or full-time Uruk-Hai warriors as the band put it. With the new lineup in place they were ready to sheath their musical swords and do battle in the open fields of the studio.
The opening track, “Usvainen Rhun”, begins with delicate flutes, lovely acoustic guitars, and the whispering of female vocalist Kaisa Jouhki. Showing any newcomer to their music that they are indeed a vessel for Tolkien’s works, she is not whispering in either Finnish or English, but in Elvish. The song gently goes out, and transitions heavily into the second track…
An explosion of keyboards, drums, and heavy guitar usher in the second track, “Storm of the Blades”. The voice of Mykkänen, aggressive and rough, is heard here for the first time. Kaisa’s voice gently flows in, an angelic contrast to the harshness of Tomi. Ripping guitar riffs, and dramatic piano parts layered in the background. A spoken part by Tomi, then Kaisa’s voice again. Then the song ends abruptly.
Track three, “Ghan of the Woods”, starts off with dark guitar riffs and eerie yet majestic keyboard parts. Instantly the music takes you to the visuals of a forest, and Kaisa’s voice tells the tale of the Pukel-men, the wild men of the woods who guide the Rohirrim through the untamed forest to aid the soldiers of Gondor. Tomi joins her upon the chorus, but unlike the previous song, Kaisa holds the lead here. After another verse and chorus, there is a bridge where Tomi becomes more prominent, and Kaisa is a steady, chanting background voice. Pounding, assertive drumming carries the song throughout. Some more of Tomi’s vocals and Kaisa’s chanting, and then the keyboards take the song to the end.
“Gwaith i Mirdain”, the fourth song, begins with solid drumming and gorgeous flute work. Then the drumming becomes more prominent, and the guitars make themselves known, yet the dulcet sounds of the flute are not overrun. Kaisa leads again on this song, but Tomi’s vocals come in to punctuate the verses. A lovely marriage of the heavy guitars, drums, aggressive male vocals of Tomi, subtle flutes, and Kaisa’s angelic voice. A memorable guitar part that repeats itself and then ends abruptly to end the song overall.
Track five, “Trollshaws”, begins with continual, tribal-esque drumming, dark keyboard parts, and then Tomi’s vocals kick in with assertiveness. Kaisa’s voice is heard faintly in the background, and then Tomi whispers, bringing in a pleasant flute part. Then more of his growly vocals. Rhythmic guitar riffs and sweet piano work up to a brief break, and then some more whispering and more flute work. Kaisa and Tomi again, her voice punctuating the end of the song.
Soft acoustic guitars open up the sixth track, “Elves of Luva”. Kaisa’s voice is more mid-tempo here but no less lovely to listen to. It is only she and the acoustic guitar as she tells the tale of elves and their love of the sea. As simple as the song is, it is quite moving, especially if you are familiar with Tolkien’s works and know quite well his stories of elves. Unobtrusive drumming comes in a little while later to round out the song, but it is still very much a ballad. The song gently fades out.
Foreshadowing tapping on the cymbals start off the seventh song, “Valier (Queens of the Valar)”. Then the guitars come in, bringing along atmospheric keyboards and tinkling pianos. Kaisa’s voice is stronger here as she sings of the goddesses of the Ainur, the mystical beings who were responsible for the creation of the world, according to Tolkien. This song is mid-tempo, not as heavy as the previous tracks but not a ballad like the last song. Tomi’s voice kicks in a little while later to give the song a heavy twist, but it does not stray far from its mid-tempo foundation. Kaisa whispers as the drums and guitar move steadily. Then the drums and guitar burst into a jam to bring in Tomi’s dark vocals again. The chorus again, and then the end of the song. This is my favorite song on the album.
Subtle string-work, and then an introduction to the heavy guitars and keyboards make way for track eight, “Thousand Caves”. This song is reference to a location in Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion, a place called Menegroth where an Elf man and a Maiar woman (Maiar are servants of the gods) mate to bring forth the most beautiful children the world has ever seen. The song is reference to the home they made in Middle-Earth, Menegroth, or “thousand caves” in the Elvish language. Lilting pianos carry the song, and Tomi’s vocals are never far behind. A break in the song where Kaisa vocalizes without lyrics, and lovely strings are accompanying her voice. Then she returns to sing more lyrics, and then the guitar riffs end the song in a sudden manner.
“Cloaked in Her Unlight”, track nine, begins with quick, cadenced drumming and more exquisite piano work. Kaisa’s vocals are strong yet subtle, and there is dramatic keyboard work here as well. A break where there is faint rhythm guitar, and then strong lead guitars bring forth Tomi’s vocals. Kaisa sings again after an instrumental part, her voice going a little higher like on the first few tracks. Her voice repeats the final line until it fades away.
Track ten, “Of Orcs and Elves”, begins on a fade-in, and then the entire band kicks in to take you on a musical journey of a battle between the subjects of the song title. Kaisa’s voice is frantic and passionate, Tomi’s voice is wicked and forceful. You can almost picture the great battle of the Orcs and Elves from the Lord of the Rings movie as you listen to this song, through both the contrasting styles of vocals and the bellicose vibe of the song. The song goes into a break where there is a soft guitar part and steady bassline, and then Kaisa’s voice returns, this time much gentler. A ripping guitar riff with pounding drums to match, and more of Tomi’s firm voice, a final note bringing in Kaisa again. The music becomes faster as she sings, her voice keeping steady as the music spirals to a climactic end.
A folk-inspired riff opens up track eleven, “Touch of Green and Gold”. Kaisa leads the way vocally here. This song is heavy as well, but more upbeat too. Tomi’s growls are heard ever so faintly before he makes a full-on appearance shortly after. Kaisa’s voice is a sing-song taunt, playful, almost what a hobbit song must sound like. Tomi’s vocals are faint again before an instrumental jam; his vocals go back and forth between barely audible to the short moment of being heard prominently, as if two sides of him are speaking. Kaisa returns again, her voice high and sweet as crunchy guitars carry the song through. Tomi is back with his vocals, and then the song ends.
It almost feels as if the riff from the previous song is carried over to track twelve, “Pallando (Forgotten Wizards Part 1)”. Tomi’s vocals begin the song this time, telling the tale of one of the five wizards, two of which are not mentioned as prominently in Tolkien’s works. This song speaks of one of them. Kaisa comes in as epic keyboards dramatically play in the background. Tomi’s vocals are especially assertive here. Beautiful piano work leads the way through the middle of the song, bringing back Kaisa’s voice. Then the guitars stand alone for a moment, bringing back the keyboards and drums. Kaisa sings some more, and then the keyboards end the song.
More of the tribal drumming and mystical keyboards bring us to track thirteen, “Gollum’s Cry”. Mournful pianos bring us to a male vocal that is twisted and sounds almost choked. The voice is pleading, as if begging for some kind of mercy. Obviously through Tomi’s uncharacteristic vocal, this is the voice of Gollum, the most tragic of all of Tolkien’s characters. Over and again the “voice of Gollum” is heard yearning for “his precious”, which anyone who has ever read a Tolkien book or watched the Lord of the Rings movie, knows what this is in reference to. The keyboards and drums keep the pace of the song, as the plaintive voice of Gollum pleads once more, and then a thunderous drum roll followed by a crashing cymbal ends the song.
Technically, this would be the end of the album, but my copy of Third Age of the Sun has a few bonus tracks that deserve mention…
The tales of the forgotten wizards is resumed here on track fourteen, “Alatar (Forgotten Wizards Part 2)”. Flitting keyboards and Tomi’s harsh vocals start off the song, and then Kaisa joins in over the lightning-fast drumming. Tomi’s voice is somewhat warped on the next voice, as if he is using some kind of “Tomi-bot”. He has dual vocals again, the subtle background voice and then the more prominent growly vocal. Kaisa’s voice comes in again and then the fast pace of the song suddenly winds down and builds back up to a mid-tempo. A guitar riff takes the song to a fade-out.
“Elessar’s Call”, track fifteen, begins with a heavy guitar riff and frantic drumming. Tomi’s voice starts things off vocally, and then Kaisa comes in with a much higher pitch in her voice than we have heard thus far. It is harmonious and sweet next to the aggression and frenzy of Tomi’s voice. Awesome “beauty and the beast” vocal duet between the two on this song, all the while the heavy music carrying the two voices through the tale of Aragorn and his quest to reclaim his kingdom. Kaisa’s voice ends the song. My second-favorite song on the album.
Track sixteen, “Dwimmerlaik”, is the final track on the album, and starts off with a keyboard part that segues into heavy drums and guitar. The twisted vocal of Tomi returns again, though not as much like the voice of Gollum. The “Tomi-bot” seems to take prominence here, with spoken parts sprinkled in. Quick drumming and frenetic keyboards is the centerpiece musically; I especially love the drum work on this song. Kaisa’s voice comes in after quite a while, once you begin to think that it is a Tomi-only song. As always, her voice is the steady comfort amidst the frantic pace of heavy music and growly vocals. More of Tomi’s vocals, and then an almost techno-sounding keyboard part before bringing Kaisa back in. Another break where you hear the techno part, and then an abrupt end to the song brings the album to a close.
Overall opinion: As someone who loves both metal music and Tolkien’s literary works, I can really find little fault in a band like Battlelore. They have made a fantastic follow-up to Sword’s Song and have proven once again that they can do justice to Tolkien’s works. They are so thorough in their lyrics about recanting the stories of Tolkien, that I often feel their albums should be subtitled “Tolkien for Dummies”. Their music is a great companion if you are new to Tolkien’s writing; perhaps Battlelore can explain the tales of Tolkien that sometimes cause confusion among the average reader. Likewise, if you are a longtime fan of Tolkien, perhaps you can find enjoyment in the lyrics and music of Battlelore, and appreciate that they keep his spirit alive through their songs. Tolkien influences aside, this is a solid album that holds its own musically. It is full of different sounds, sounds of metal mixed in with a medieval twist. Their music takes you on an adventure of battles fought and lost, ethereal maidens, and mythical creatures. To say more about the band, they are very tight musically and each member is talented in their own way. As a vocalist, Kaisa does not necessarily have the power of Tarja Turunen, or the presence of Cristina Scabbia; her voice is of a different nature, it is more reserved, relaxed, and gentle. It brings forth a lovely contrast, because there is so much going on musically that there is no need for over-the-top vocals. Her voice is beautiful to listen to and fits the music well. In a way, a voice like hers is better fitting to tell the tales of Tolkien, for it is said in his works that the Elves had gentle voices. It is hard to put Battlelore in a category; they have folk-metal leanings but are quite symphonic and epic at the same time. If you are new to the genre of folk-metal, Battlelore is in a class by themselves. But they are also a fine representative of the folk-metal genre, for folk-metal is all about telling tales of old by way of music. Keeping the tales of Tolkien alive is just as true to the folk-metal formula as any other band that chooses to recant tales of true history. After all, any Tolkien fan knows that the intentions of his works were to make a mythology for England, and his works have taken on a life of its own, to where his imagination and shaping of his mythology has become a sort of history within itself. Battlelore has taken on the heavy task of keeping this mythology alive, and breathing new life into it by infusing their style of metal into these tales. And it is only fitting that the members of Battlelore have chosen to carry on the legacy, for it is common knowledge that Tolkien based the fundamentals of the Elvish language on Finnish. Battlelore is not the first band to take on personas and portray them on the stage, but they wear their parts well and give one hell of a convincing performance. If you are new to Battlelore, Third Age of the Sun is as good a place to get started. Whether you are a fan of Tolkien or a fan of fantasy themes within metal, Battlelore has got you covered.