Battlelore: Middle-Earth Meets Metal

Battlelore is a Fantasy Metal band established in Finland. They base their distinctive sound on the literary works of J R R Tolkien, perhaps most famous for his Lord of the Rings trilogy of books.

Despite the fact that Guitar Hero has not yet released a Fantasy Metal edition, Rockonnection has once more been able to find a use for me. This is perhaps because I am a massive fantasy literature fan, and own the extended edition of Lord of the Rings.

Founded in ’99, Battlelore blend a mixture of Celtic folk music with a heavy metal undertone which makes their sound quite distinctive. Use of instruments such as the flute, in combination with guitar, bass and drums which are perhaps more traditionally associated with Rock and Metal lends an almost classical sound to parts of the music, whilst a steady bass rhythm never lets us forget that metal is at the soul of the music. I caught up with Jyri Vahvanen (guitar/lyrics), founder member of the band to find out more about his Tolkien fascination, and vision for the group.

“I was twelve years old when I found Tolkien’s books through a role-playing game.” He tells me. “His tales of Middle-Earth were the first fantasy theme I ever read and I totally fell in his books. Since then he has been the number one fantasy author for me.”

The work of Tolkien is laced with heroic deeds and epic battles just crying out to be set to music. The picturesque Finnish countryside seems so perfect for staging the battles of Middle-Earth that one could question what motivated Peter Jackson to use New Zealand. Battlore’s videos incorporate fantasy costumes with the idyllic settings that one imagines when reading his work. But is metal really the best way to represent the adventures of all these wonderful fantasy creatures?

“In our case it is.” Jyri informs me. “I used to play metal before I founded Battlelore, so it was very natural development for me to unite metal music and Tolkien’s writings. Maybe classical or folk music might catch Tolkien’s Middle-Earth’s ‘medieval-like’ atmosphere a bit easier, but I like to do it with the elements of metal music.”

Even with my Hobbit obsession, I have never, until this point considered what it would be like to hear an Orc sing. Had I taken hours to contemplate what the phenomenon of a singing Orc would sound like, I would doubtless have come to the conclusion that it would sound a lot like the guttural sound of Tomi Mykkänen’s vocals. His contrast with the more Celtic, feminine sounding vocals of Kaisa Jouhki is vaguely reminiscent of Enya meets Napalm Death. To me this contrast represents the conflicting forces of Orcs and Elves, which are a constant in the novels of Tolkien. At the risk of sounding like I totally missed the point I mentioned this view to Jyri.

“Yes, you are correct about that.” Phew, not just Guitar Hero then. “Back in the days it was even more intentional, but nowadays we have mixed their roles a little bit. Of course it is much easier to reach the certain kind of atmosphere for the song if you have a wider scale of vocals to use. For example the fey female vocals for the speech of a furious demon might mislead a listener too much and it is nice to write lyrics where there is kind of a conversation between the characters of the song.”

Battlelore’s latest album, Doombound is their first “concept album”. Although their previous work is themed to the work of Tolkien, this is the first album dedicated to a single novel. The novel chosen was the posthumously published The Children of Hurin. This is not a feel good romp of mythical creatures. For the hardcore fans of Tolkien this is an interesting read, as it is set a long way prior to The Lord of the Rings when Morgorth was a man, and Sauron is just a Lieutenant. It is a tragic tale of the family of Hurin, who is cursed Morgorth. There is murder, incest and betrayal, nice capped off with multiple suicide, (I am of course just breaking it down to the bare bones). So, having read it and taken a couple of Vallium I felt obliged to ask why choose this book to base your first concept album on?

“Some may say that all of our albums have been concept albums, because we write about Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, but for me Doombound is the first true concept album, because of the continuous story which goes through the album. I had an idea for the concept album when we started to write our third album Evernight, but back then I found it too challenging. Now I felt that the time could be right to try it again and this time we managed to make it work. There were also some other options for the album’s concept, but somehow we just chose this particular story of Túrin Turambar/Children of Húrin. Afterwards I noticed that this story has a lot of similarities to Finnish epic Kaleva which also a nice feature as we are a Finnish band, but this wasn’t really intentional choice.”

Fortunately the album itself did not make me want to slit my wrists – unlike the book, which was a majorly depressing read. So what if you were pregnant by your brother, go on Jerry Springer and discuss it, don’t jump off a cliff, but I digress.

The album successfully tells the story of the novel lyrically, without losing the integrity of a metal album. We hear the vocalists less conflicted than in earlier albums, in some instances signing together, sharing verses. This is perhaps because the Middle-Earth represented in The Children of Hurin is saturated by the forces of Morgorth, so the Elf voice is less prominent. Having said that, there is still the distinct vocal contrast that we have come to expect from Battlelore. The album combines classic guitar riffs and fast drumming with storytelling. The music itself represents the emotions reflected as the story progresses. Turin’s anger and pride is built up by the speed of the instrumentals. The final track on the album, “Kielo” is an instrumental track. This is a brave decision for a metal album as it moves away from the fast paced shouting vocals we have come to expect. Opening with a steady drum beat, it is a melancholy track which seems to use a cello, flute and piano to represent the gloomy ending of the book. It also showcases very well Battlelore’s diversity as musicians. It is an excellent finish to the concept album, as the tragic ending of the novel would have been difficult to represent in song, although traditional metal heads may not appreciate the final track as much as the rest of the album.

I have tried to review the album in terms of the book, as it represents itself as being linked to the story as a concept album. However, you don’t need to have read the most depressing story ever to appreciate the music. It can stand alone quite comfortably. Knowledge of the work of Tolkien merely adds an extra dimension to the music, and perhaps an appreciation for the videos. Although they have no confirmed gigs for the UK Jyri tells me “hopefully there will be. There’s going to be a little break for our touring in June-July, because a few of us are having additions to our families so that will slow the ride for a little while. We really would like to play some good shows in UK, as your country has been a very nice to us and the gigs have been awesome.”

We at Rockonnection will keep our eyes peeled and let you know when it is confirmed that Battlelore are crossing the water. In the words of Jyri Vahvanen “Take care and keep it metal!”

Originally published on Rockonnection.com

 

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