Kingston upon Hull veterans Battalions have been making a sizeable noise in the UK metal scene for the last 12 years. In that time they have released three albums of battering noise, two of which were loving compiled into the Pure Humber Sludge double feature disc that was their last outing for much loved Salford label APF Records in 2020.
During this period of reflection, the band underwent a line-up change and Simon Harrison replaced the departing Matt Walker after a decade behind the kit. This event and the enforced layoff allowed the band to take stock of their direction and 2022 sees them emerge refocused, paying respect to their DIY roots, the grimy hardcore sound and yet giving the band a sonic reimaging. Armed with this mindset, they headed to the new location of Nø Studio in Manchester with producer Joe Clayton (Pijn) to embark on a new process and carve out album number four.
The results it must be said are fantastic. From the first note to the last King Of A Dead World sounds absolutely monstrous. This being Battalions, it was never going to be a soundtrack for a garden party, well maybe if Saruman and Grima Wormtongue decided to throw one for the Orcs as they raised an army in preparation to march on Helm’s Deep, but this album literally bounces out of the speakers with a clarity and a vibrancy that is immediately arresting and more hooky than Peter Pan’s nemesis.
Clayton and the band have done an absolutely belting job here, not only packing the fat free run time with some of their strongest tunes but also cutting through any notion of DIY, retro or fuzzy sounds and just making a modern metal album that doesn’t sound artificial, computer enhanced or digitally neutered. Simply put, King Of A Dead World feels incredible.
From the moment Green Boots bounces out of the speakers with its buzzing guitar attack with a neck snapping groove metal snarl, it is all systems go with a snotty punk vibe and a rallying cry led by Phil Wilkinson’s schizophrenic screeching roar. Lurching riffs, accented by deftly melodic lead work that never seems to settle, propels the track onwards as they set out their stall with thunderous drums and a murky but rich low end.
Oscillating between a careering, unhinged tempo and a stomping sway, Battalions introduce you to the new school sound with a re-invigored fervour that retains the blackened sludge edge and injects an energy and tempo that comes at you like a prize fighter looking to land a knockout blow.
The no less slamming Coughing Nails blasts in, defying you not to get pogoing in the pit and disproving the notion that heavy music is not a danceable medium. Catchy as hell with an anthem like breakdown, it has an almost classic rock feel to some of the passages at times and a dynamic that never settles. In the same way that the Black album managed to smuggle some seriously heavy music into the mainstream for Metallica, it is easy to forget just how heavy the band are.
From the first note to the last King Of A Dead World sounds absolutely monstrous…
A point they do not let slip for too long as Diagnosis Fucked, despite its rolling groove, is seriously heavy and the vocals stray into death metal territory. At times it is like Pantera on steroids, containing a southern flavouring of American influenced metal that could easily sound at home on an EyeHateGod album, but Battalions never lose their own barking UK roots.
The slower menace that is introduced on Bones To Dust is a welcome shift in energy, allowing you to breathe. With hints at Slayer, the track reveals more subtleties on each listen. The ominous guitar and barked vocals set the platform as the band open up to a mid-tempo chug that loses none of the intensity before No Safe Place displays some of that classic rock and roll panache that they dazzled you with earlier.
Seemingly in possession of a split personality, this track has catchy hooks, savage moments and some simply beautiful instrumental passages, whatever they’ve been putting the in the water up there should be bottled and passed out to wannabe metal heads all over.
Parasite continues this journey with the sort of luscious blues riffing that Alice In Chains created on their first two albums, before obliterating it with their brand of belligerence. Each addition to King Of A Dead World builds on their arsenal of tricks and throws something new at the listener whilst Wilkinson anchors you to their core, screaming like a madman.
The album clocks in at only eight tracks which these days feels short. However, Battalions are weighing in for this contest with precisely zero body fat and Light A Fire feints with the slower pace, but they can’t restrain themselves for the entirety of the song and explode for a last manic run with blistering lead work before finishing with King Of A Dead World itself.
The grinding bass intro and creeping feedback heralds Battalions at their moodiest; crawling and slow with the title repeated mantra like, this is the meditation of nightmares to end what has been an eardrum shattering and, at times, breathless gallop through their strongest material to date. As the band pick up to a brutal march, they go out strutting, assured in the knowledge that they have just delivered a masterclass in sonic ass kicking.
Not compromising on their previous work, King Of A Dead World shows that Battalions made the right choice, despite the personnel changes, the desire to change up for this release, here they show sonic enhancements that benefit their primal ferocity and sound all the better for it.
This is an impressive release from start to finish.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden