Home > Music > Bal-Sagoth – Battle Magic (1998)

Bal-Sagoth – Battle Magic (1998)

1998 - Battle MagicI used to think that it was either this album or its predecessor that formally codified Bal-Sagoth’s sound. In recent years, though, it’s become apparent that Bal-Sagoth is both a band that evolves steadily from album to album, and one that’s retained its core throughout its career. Battle Magic, at least, is a logical continuation of this, as the band pushes further from its black/death roots. The underlying techniques of those genres remain in use – blastbeats, growled/shrieked vocals, tremelo-picked riffs – but for rather different purposes than in the past.

Battle Magic‘s production is cleaner and perhaps less mysterious than its predecessors. The compositional density remains the same, but the ultimate aesthetic here is often lighter, bordering on martial/triumphant at times. Were it not for Byron Robert’s continued usage of harsh vocals, this would probably be consistently classified as power metal. Some of the content here fits very well with the especially fast and pyrotechnic, if somewhat poppy variant of the genre popularized by such bands as Kamelot and Rhapsody (of Fire). Admittedly, my familiarity with that is somewhat limited, but Bal-Sagoth also importantly retains their elaborate approach to songwriitng, with significant variety in sections and structures.

Since the underlying core of the band held up quite well in the transition from the last two albums to this one (even the overflow of lyrics), most of the positives and negatives on display here come from the reduced extremity. I found it took me some time to adjust, but given their songwriting propensities, Bal-Sagoth does pull off the ‘epic’ sound pretty well. On the other hand, previous albums also had their slower, softer moments, so it’s possible to argue that the softer aesthetic harms their dynamic range. This is further supported by the fact that the most intense song on this album (“Return to the Praesidium of Ys”) is also the most effective and entertaining. Despite this, the musicians’ abilities continue to grow – in particular, these songs showcase some exploration of tonality that isn’t very common in metal (although it is more common in the band’s roots). If you read this blog, you’ll note I like to mention alternate tonalities/modalities, and that I also enjoy mentioning my taste for them. Knowing this sort of thing helps you (the reader) understand why I hold certain opinions, and it helps me figure out what recordings I would like.

Having this sort of knowledge about my personal tastes helped lead me to Battle Magic, but the irony is that this knowledge makes them more over time than they otherwise would. I used to consistently say Bal-Sagoth’s more aggressive moments were their strongest, but the band has displayed substantial aptitude outside of them; greater emphasis on the ‘positive’ aspects of their sound seem to fit their choice of lyrics. Still, given how much of the band’s core approach remains, I hypothesize that most are going to either enjoy all of Bal-Sagoth’s works, or be entirely uninterested in them.

Highlights: “A Tale From The Deep Woods”, “Return to the Praesidium of Ys”, “The Dark Liege Of Chaos Is Unleashed At The Ensorcelled Shrine Of A’Zura Kai”

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