Battlecross’s Rise To Power is Strong But Not Authoritative
For a band that took their damn time putting out their first full-length, Michigan’s Battlecross sure have started to churn things out these days. 2015’s Rise to Power is the band’s fourth record in five years, and given the amount of time the band spends on the road, it’s hard to imagine how they’ve found time to write that much music. Rise to Power continues down the band’s now well-trodden path of blending rethrash with melodeath sensibilities, though it’s a little lighter than the band’s previous works. From the first listen, Rise to Power is quite appealing, coming off as an accomplished synthesis of a wide range of styles that somehow manages to avoid being derivative.
But while the album initially presents well, spending further time on Rise to Power soon reveals its nature. Battlecross aren’t a carbon copy of any one particular band, but are quite literally dictionary-definition generic – Rise to Power is an unsubtle combination of the vast majority of styles circulated in the last fifteen years of modern American metal. If the idea of “metal in a nutshell” is appealing to you, you’ll love Rise to Power. You’ll hear everything from rethrash d-beats, sparkling, ’80s-a-la-Black Dahlia Murder melodies, and snappy djent-implicative breakdowns to wimpy, “atmospheric” dissonance, shoehorned acoustic breaks, and shameless At The Gates worship. Listening to Rise to Power is a bit like eating the raw ingredients of a recipe all at once – you (sort of) taste all the flavors, but you don’t get any of the nuance or cohesion of a fully cooked dish. While the band’s metal vocabulary is comprehensive, most of us would rather delve more deeply into one of those areas rather than hearing them simultaneously jammed together.
Despite the criticisms, Battlecross still have a lot going for them. The riffs are technical, hooky, and fun, and the songs’ concise lengths encourage repeat listens. Rise to Power avoids the all-too-common pitfalls of long-windedness and overproduction; the guitars in particular maintain a refreshing rawness and the breakdowns, while heavy, don’t sound like they’ve been massaged into Joey Sturgis-caliber perfection. The band may not be particularly noteworthy in their own right, but they’re at least excessively competent. And as the band’s early tenures on Mayhem Fest and every opening slot on every tour ever have demonstrated, Battlecross are fast becoming one of the prototypical modern American metal bands. If they’re the kind of band that’re going to be the face of fighting the claim that metal is “gray, bald, and fat,” then Battlecross are certainly up to that challenge.
But by and large, this is metal by numbers; even accounting for its seamless and dynamic playing, Rise to Power still comes across as pedestrian. Maybe it’s the tired, flavorless themes, or the excessive reliance on grooves and tropes, or the band’s overzealous promotional approach bleeding over into the music and painting their product more like OxiClean than a metal record. Using the term “merchants” to describe a band usually feels a little odd, but in the case of these neothrash peddlers, it feels pretty apt. Ultimately, power isn’t achieved by simply emulating those that have ruled before. Battlecross may have nailed the strength component of power, but they lack the charisma and fear needed to back that power up.