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There are very few things that harbour more upcoming potential in music than the phrase “irreconcilable differences”.
Usually, this means one of two things. One of the band members is an arsehole and they’ve received a P45 in the form of a boot, or someone isn’t happy with the music that is being made and they’ve struck out on their own. Yes, there is a third option in which both things are true, but what usually follows is some glorious music and Beast in Black are absolutely zero exception to that rule. Though it’s difficult to tell which of the three options happened if I’m honest.
The man at the centre of it all, lead guitarist Anton Kabanen, figured it clearly wasn’t happening how he wanted it to with his old band, Battle Beast, and recruited four new bandmates to bring his vision to life.
What we got out of the deal was Beast in Black, a no-holds-barred power/symphonic metal experience and, three albums in, it’s becoming apparent that they can do three things without fail. One, create music that will make you smile like a lunatic. Two, surprise you with just how much technical excellence every member of the band commands, and three, dish out more cheese than a six armed man who runs a 24 hour fromagerie.
I’d honestly go as far as to call the band’s sound wacky in places, but here’s the thing - it works. It’s bold and brash and at times you think it could only fall over under the weight of its own silliness but Dark Connection, their newest effort on the pile, is a masterclass in being somehow balanced enough to function and unbalanced enough to be unique and fun. But does it sound good?
We start as we mean to go on with Blade Runner, a bombastic bit of synth infused power metal that’s about as “pure” as it gets on that front for the rest of the album, with a brilliant guitar solo to boot. It also serves us our first of many, MANY “nerd culture” references, a nod to the Philip K. Dick classic turned movie about an android hunter. So far, so good!
Bella Donna is also a first of many songs about women on the album – unless it’s the same woman and she’s wildly inspirational. Then we hit the Highway to Mars and it is the undisputed highlight of the offerings – a sci-fi tinged epic that is equal parts totally anthemic and complete synth-rock joy. It’s such a fantastic track that offers the best of what this album can do. A personal favourite, for sure!
Hardcore gives us a much more punchy experience, mixed up with a lot more of the fantasy elements alluded to on the previous albums that are a holdover from the Battle Beast-era, before we are treated to the breakdown in One Night In Tokyo, which is probably the catchiest thing since Ash Ketchum and lifts what would have otherwise been a bit of a flat note track slap bang in the middle of the album up to the tier it needs to be.
Moonlight Rendezvous is a much better follow-up, then; basically, an 80s movie soundtrack with a power metal layering that, like the rest of the album, seems to transmit a yearning for a very specific time with such intensity that even I, a man who was born in the 90s, can’t help but agree with. Though that’s also because the 90s was pretty shit, wasn’t it?
… wait; maybe Revengeance Machine is my favourite? From the bafflingly terrible American accent someone has affected at the start that harks back to bizarre old sci-fi to the practically screamed repetition of REVENGEANCE MACHINES in the chorus, it’s too toe-tappingly bonkers to not love.
Dark New World feels like a much more traditional power metal affair, with much more traditional guitars and keys sandwiching a thumping chorus, while it’s follower To The Last Drop Of Blood is a Hammerfall-esque love letter to more nerd-ery in the form of the anime Berserk. The more I hear about the obvious anime obsession, the more I’m convinced the aforementioned “irreconcilable differences” had something to do with body pillows.
Rubbish stereotypes aside, by the time we get through the fairly functional Broken Survivors into the noticeably down-tempo pseudo-ballad My Dystopia, we’re allowed about five minutes to gather up our blown-off socks and smooth our hair back down. Which is slightly unfortunate, as the last three songs are the clearly defined weak point of the album.
What follows is a respectable, if a little by the numbers cover of Battle Hymn. Originally by those crusaders of real metal Manowar, this one treads a very similar ground and doesn’t add much new to the table. It’s fine, but the next cover is the one that really got an eyebrow raise out of me. Yes, you are hearing it correctly – it’s They Don’t Care About Us by Michael Jackson. Lead singer Yannis Papadopoulos does a passable Michael Jackson impression. Who knew? Granted, I don’t think we really needed to know, but the cover has just enough of the band’s influence on it in the last two minutes to make it worth being here.
And then it’s all over, and I’m left wondering – do I have the stamina to listen to the whole thing again? Because I really want to. See, Dark Connection is a lot of things – it’s flamboyant, it’s fun; quite frankly, it’s nearly an hour of non-stop, all out symphonic metal that barely stops for breath and, when it does, just launches an assault on a different wavelength instead. Dark Connection comes highly, highly recommended and while Rob Halford might have warned us in Nightcrawler about the beast in black, he hadn’t got his ears around this one just yet.
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