Battlemaster
Ghastly, Graven, Grimoireless

I’m a big believer in being honest with yourself. Knowing who, and what you are (and just as importantly, aren’t) goes a long way towards helping you build a happy, successful life for yourself. That’s not to say that personal growth and exploring new things is by any means a bad thing or useless endeavor – far from it – but there are limits.

For example, if the bulk of hiking and exploring you’ve done in your life has been done vicariously through hours spent playing Zelda or Red Dead Redemption, suddenly deciding to buy a bunch of expensive gear to hike the entire 2,000+ mile Appalachian trial probably seems a bit… lofty. And that’s fine! You do you, gamers! If you know what you like and it makes you happy, go nuts, my friend.

So when a band called Battlemaster comes on your radar, armed with a new album brandishing somewhat crude, but fucking AMAZING artwork depicting a depraved-looking wizard fellow, and song titles like “Chaotic Dwarven Mischiefism” and “Hectored Bugbearean Wrath,” I ain’t expecting some grandiose, uber-serious product here. Some down-and-dirty, tongue-in-cheek fuckery seems to be the better bet and frankly, that’s exactly the shit I’m looking for.

BERSERKER MODE: ENGAGED!

Richmond’s Battlemaster isn’t here to blow you away with a dizzying technical display or surprise you with layered, complex subtlety. These dudes don’t do subtle. It’s not in their vocabulary. What they DO do, is attack you with a super upbeat canon-blast of thrashy, blackened death metal akin to the likes of Skeletonwitch or Necropanther, but delivered with a gutter aesthetic that gives the whole package a grimy, depraved feeling that’s purpose-built for heathenistic fun. They take classic Heavy Metal fantasy themes and inject them with grotesque Fritz the Cat perversion. To make a shameless (but appropriate) Middle Earth reference, if a band like Revocation came from the Elven land of Rivendell, Battlemaster would be their filthy Orcish equivalent. They’re 3 Inches of Blood’s estranged, paint-huffing cousin. I promise, that’s a compliment.

Don’t mistake my focus on the band’s lo-fi attitude as a questioning of quality or talent, though. Ghastly, Graven, Grimoireless is filled to the brim with super-clever and catchy songwriting, along with some absolutely quality musicianship, it’s just that its impact is all in its attitude and delivery. The album comes out with battleaxes swinging freely and wildly; hitting you with blistering guitars layered over a relentless blast beat and the gravely, tortured war screams of vocalist Andy Horn, before settling into a dirty, thrashy onslaught that is gives me some really great This Is Hell-era The Crown vibes and gets me grinning ear-to-ear like a battle-hungry lunatic.

The whole experience feels like being at a basement show in some seedy tavern of drunken, raging gremlins. “Chaotic Dwarven Mischiefism” sounds every bit the part, calling in some almost early Dillinger Escape Plan-like elements that paint a free-for-all picture of pandemonium, while “Hectored Bugbearean Wrath,” with its depiction of some seriously pissed-off D&D monsters, is an absolute thrasher that moves like a whirlwind from one section to the next. The final two tracks continue to showcase the band’s adeptness at balancing the fun and unhinged lunacy with more than enough serious songwriting and playing to keep you coming back, the final title track especially providing some really catchy riffing and shout-along-inspiring lyrics, and another thrashy, headbanging, The Crown-inspired bridge that gets under your skin and crawls around for a bit and just makes you wanna move.

I’m ready for battle. I don’t care what we’re fighting, don’t care what odds are stacked against me. Owlbears? Manticore? FUCK ‘EM. I’ve got a 30 rack of Genessee Screamers and Battlemaster on repeat to help carry me through. This is a band who knows what they are, and they deliver the goods in spades. There’s more polished examples of this kind of thing out there, but few are delivered with this kind of tenacity, and this album is launching me into weekend warrior mode like a friggin’ freight train. BRING IT, CREEPS.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
June 25th, 2020

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