Heavy metal fans have long been suspicious of ‘pop’. That’s strange, because there have been times throughout the genre’s history – especially the eighties – when the ‘pop’ charts have been peppered with what the untutored ear might consider to be metal. My own formative musical years were the late seventies to the early eighties, when seemingly barely a week went by without Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest or Saxon appearing on national TV pop show Top of The Pops. Great music is great music, and by definition will always be POPular. Why bother starting a band unless it’s music is given the opportunity to seep into the most ears possible?
Which brings us to Finland’s Battle Beast, who always get a rough ride from ‘true’ metal fans for being too poppy for their own good. Their new album, Circus of Doom, is no exception – you could easily see Russian Roulette, with it’s pounding synths and easy-to-remember refrain, kicking up a storm on Eurovision this year – it’s sleek, blaring production suggesting that the triumph of form over substance is assured. But it’s not that simple. You don’t get to write and perform material of the quality of standout tracks Wings of Light or Where Angels Fear To Fly without being very good at what you do, and the band deserve all the props available for creating such an eminently listenable set of songs.
And then of course there’s Noora Louhimo, a singer who absolutely radiates heavy metal majesty from every Valkyrie-draped inch of her being. Her scream at the start of Wings of Light is more metal than anything this band’s many detractors could conceive of in a thousand lifetimes, and her performance throughout Circus of Doom underlines her right to reside in the very top flight of heavy metal vocalisers in 2022.
If there is one criticism to be levelled here, it’s that a few too many of the album’s highlight moments have already been used by fellow Finns Nightwish, but that’s a minor quibble in the face of uniformly high quality melodic metal like Master of Illusion or The Road To Avalon. Don’t believe the scuttlebutts who say this isn’t worthy of your attention – Circus of Doom is shiny, true, it is beguiling, and it does contain more hooks than a fishing equipment convention… but it rocks like the proverbial bastard too.
Circus of Doom releases on January 21st.