I went into this debut LP from North Carolinian metal outfit Undrask almost completely blind. Given the title Battle Through Time and the epic, space-themed album cover, I assumed they would be a power metal band drawing inspiration from the likes of Blind Guardian or perhaps a symphonic metal band, with a large focus on the lyrical content of the songs on this record, which would presumably follow some sort of galactic, science-fiction narrative. However, the tags on this album’s Bandcamp page assured me that this is a melodeath record, and a melodeath record it is. The page also included a small blurb saying, “Follow our hero on a journey through time, space, alternate realities, and lots of violence”, so my assumption that this album would be telling some kind of story seemed to be confirmed, as indeed it is. Yet the lyrical content of this record gives the impression that Undrask don’t take themselves overly seriously. Checking out the music video for Longhammer, the lead single from Battle Through Time, demonstrated this as well, with the video depicting a stereotypical college house party, cutting between shots of the band performing at said party and the happenings of a lumbering, over-the-top viking character attempting to participate in the jamboree. The band’s slightly humorous attitude towards their music made my experience listening to their debut album some of the most fun I’ve had listening to a melodic death metal album in a long time.
Every track on Battle Through Time is as strong as the last, with the album displaying an abundance of legitimately catchy melodic metal riffage, paired with some impressive vocal performances from Undrask’s frontman, Steve Wynn. Whilst this record seems to be a rather standard melodeath release on the surface, paying close attention to the melodies showing up in the guitar work reveals the band’s inspiration from various styles under the metal umbrella. There’s a distinct influence from classic British heavy metal, but some influence from power metal and even symphonic metal appears on this release too. This is emphasised by the fantastic guitar solos provided by axeman Erik Collier, which often take place over more progressive moments on many of these tracks. Props should also be given to rhythm guitarist Darryl DeWitt, who holds the fort down really well with some incredible rhythmic guitar work whilst Collier is doing his own thing, plus DeWitt provides some great backing leads at various points that complement Collier’s guitar flourishes nicely.
Battle Through Time opens with No Graves for the Dead, a track that stands out even amongst the other fantastic cuts on this record. The melody that opens this track, truth be told, is rather simple, but it’s so catchy and played so well that this isn’t a hinderance to the listener’s enjoyment of the tune one bit. When the guitar harmonies kick in as the drums pick up, the song really starts to take shape. Wynn’s vocals enter with a real bite to them and sound consistently controlled and generally incredible all over this record, and the lead guitar incidentals under the verse are an indulgent but well-received addition to this track that gives it some genuine colour. Primal Revelation grabs the listener’s attention immediately with the muddy harmonised guitar leads that slowly phase in, before a chuggy riff with some accentuated crash stabs bring the introduction into the rest of the composition. It seems that every track on this record has a distinct personality to it that is displayed through various means, whether it be Wynn’s epic vocal lines, Collier and DeWitt’s chemistry in the guitar department or some of the smooth bass embellishments that appear every now and then as courtesy of Daniel McCoy.
A handful of tracks really emphasise the subtle power metal worship on this record with some amazingly anthemic choruses. The chorus on Conscripted features some of Wynn’s most memorable vocal lines and an epic lead guitar that really reflects the inspiriting lyrics as Wynn belts out, “Rise again”. Longhammer is undoubtedly the stand out anthem on this record, and is made to feel all the more fulfilling and rousing by the acoustic interlude that precedes it, Embers and Omens, which sounds like it would be a fitting interlude for any symphonic metal record. Longhammer has some of the finest details of any track on Battle Through Time. The lead guitar is seemingly relentless, and DeWitt’s rhythm guitar is holding some nice steady riffage that works subtly into the background. The viking metal-esque chants on the word “Longhammer” during the chorus only further the epic air to this song, and perhaps somewhat explain the presence of the viking character in the peculiar music video.
Despite the songs on Battle Through Time all pertaining to a particular sound, it is a sound that is distinctly Undrask’s. On the surface, this may have the stench of a typical melodeath record, but subsequent listens unveil many fine details and small intricacies that give Undrask their unique flavour. Plus, despite the similar approach to composition and song structure that recurs on most of these songs, each individual song nonetheless retains an individual personality and justifies its own place in the tracklisting, with not one track on this record feeling unnecessary, out of place or considerably weaker than its fellow songs. It must be said, however, that the eight-minute title track that closes the record feels a bit too decadent in its length, and the preceding track, Final Right, feels like a more natural closer, this being reinforced by its title which would clearly be fitting listed as the final track on a metal record. The title track nevertheless is not a weak cut overall, but is perhaps a bit too long for its own good, and would maybe have fared better earlier on in the tracklisting as to not emphasise the extent to which it drags on slightly.
Ultimately, Battle Through Time is an absolute gem in melodic death metal and warrants far more attention than I have seen given to Undrask thus far. It manages to sound incredibly well-crafted and professional whilst also not taking itself too seriously, and the result is a fantastically fun experience that metal fans of all kinds could appreciate. Not only has this record stood out as a highlight in metal, and music in general, for me thus far this year, but I certainly see this thing ranking highly on my list of 2017 albums in 11 months’ time, especially if it continues to grow on me as it has done up until now. Listening to and reviewing this record has been a delight and has filled me with that excitement I feel when I can’t wait to share a brilliant musical discovery with others, so I highly recommend metal fans do not let this gem fall under their radars.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10