Bal-Sagoth – The Power Cosmic (1999)
For a Bal-Sagoth album, this is surprisingly short and focused, with its ongoing narrative about the mad god Zurra. Also, there’s a song about the Silver Surfer. I’m not really surprised – Bal-Sagoth pulls on a lot of fantasy and sci-fi literature to inform their universe, and what is Marvel if not part of that broad classification? I also note that I chose a particularly goofy way to describe this. As a corollary, this might be Bal-Sagoth’s silliest work, even beating out Battle Magic and its sylph incident. It is certainly their most upbeat, continuing a trend where the band grew ever more bombastic and upbeat and I kept putting off my first listen to Atlantis Ascendant.
Because of its lighter and softer aesthetic, The Power Cosmic often feels effusively different from the rest of Bal-Sagoth’s discography even when the underlying songwriting techniques are unchanged. I’m still not sure what motivated this change, but it’s not something you can ignore in this discussion. By this stage in their career, you could probably slot Bal-Sagoth in with Rhapsody of Fire, Blind Guardian, and other bombastic symphonic metal content as long as the intended audience could take some harsh vocals. Even then, this is not as big a jump from the previous album as that album was from Starfire Burning Under The Excessively Long Title And I’m Beginning To Regret Making This Joke; the big paradigm shift was quite a while in the past relative to this album.
Despite this, there are a couple of surface changes particularly worth mentioning. First of all, this album marks Bal-Sagoth’s switch to a sharper, more intense style of production, especially on the guitars. Scattered rumors inform me that this might be a switch from analog to digital recording, but scattered rumors that you can’t source aren’t exactly a good source from a journalistic integrity stance, am I right? It might have to do with the band’s shift from Cacaphonous Records (an early player in the British extreme metal scenes) to Nuclear Blast, but that too is a hypothesis. This album also sees the band’s long time keyboardist/drummer (Jonny Maudling) abandon the drumkit to a newcomer in order to focus on the synthesizer presence, which is definitely interesting from a documentation stance. However, neither aspect is significantly changed from this band’s immediate predecessors. Outside the songwriting, the biggest change here is definitely in the guitarwork, and even that’s not massive – it seems more intricate and technical than what we heard on Battle Magic, which I can always appreciate, but it’s the sort of improvement that makes me think, “Well, he did have about a year of practice under his belt, so it makes sense that he would learn.”
Some bands have a niche and do well within it. Except for being slightly lighter and softer yet again, The Power Cosmic is really just more of the same in a way that I like because I like Bal-Sagoth.
Highlights: “The Empyreal Lexicon”, “Of Carnage And A Gathering Of The Wolves”, “The Scourge Of The Fourth Celestial Host”