Epic Heavy Metal from Greece
It’s no secret that Greece has a penchant for the epic. How could they not? With a mythology filled with gods, titans, and heroes, the songs practically write themselves! The Greeks have always been fixated with big song structures, high fantasy lyrics, and massive vocals. The depth and quality of the Hellenic epic metal scene cannot be understated, especially once you factor in the relative size of the country. They’ve been worshiping at the altar of Manilla Road and Omen harder and longer than most, with only the Italians coming close. BattleroaR have been at the helm of all this since the early 2000s. They released their fifth full length album, Codex Epicus, just this past June.
Codex Epicus is the second full length album from the band with vocalist Gerrit Merz, known for his work in Dawn of Winter, Angel of Damnation, and Sacred Steel. He’s a unique vocalist with a huge voice and plenty of character to boot. Ever since his arrival in BattleroaR, the band has been playing to this strength and changing their sound. Their first 3 albums were rifftastic affairs reminiscent of classic-era Manilla Road. BattleroaR’s previous effort, Blood of Legends, saw the shift towards a bigger and more symphonic sound. Violins were a central part of the album and aside from a few tracks like “The Swords are Drawn”, there were few moments driven purely by strong guitar riffs. While the violins are dropped entirely for Codex Epicus, the band’s focus shifts even further toward their symphonic elements.
The songs on Codex Epicus slog along and range from slow to mid tempo – it’s certainly BattleroaR’s doomiest effort to date. The songs lack distinct riffs and instead go for a “wall of sound” approach that is tied together with Gerrit Merz’s vocals. Choirs and acoustics are a major part of the album, even beyond what the band has experimented with in the past, as each song features at least one or both. The choirs are used extensively to support Gerritz’s vocals in order to create the epic sound that the band strives for. With the ambitious vocals and the new approach to instrumentation, it almost feels like the band is going for their own take on Manowar’s Into Glory Ride.
The first time I heard the full album, I was disappointed. Epic heavy metal is one of my favorite genres and the bands that play it are few and far in between. BattleroaR’s other albums were so amazing and gripping that I felt like something was missing here. They put out great material in the past and Gerrit is a strong vocalist in his own right. How could BattleroaR give us this choir-driven album? I didn’t bother revisiting this album for a few weeks, but when I did so I didn’t quite have the same visceral reaction. I think it’s a natural part of the human condition to be so adverse to change. There’s no denying that BattleroaR’s sound morphed significantly for this album. I wasn’t sure how to properly process that at first, but I can say that with each listen I enjoy Codex Epicus a bit more.
It has to be noted that Mark “The Shark” Shelton (RIP) of Manilla Road fame wrote and played on the third track on this album, “Sword of the Flame”. This is the final song, as far as we know, that Mark wrote before his untimely passing earlier this summer. Unsurprisingly, it’s my favorite track on the whole album. It has the same structure and sound as the rest of Codex Epicus, but hearing Mark’s distinct sage-like vocals and unique lead guitar style adds an extra dimension to it all that helps lift it above the rest.
Codex Epicus marks a definite departure from BattleroaR’s previous sound; it feels less like an anthem of war and more like a triumphant epic hailing a warrior’s conquest. While my heart yearns for the bloodthirsty nature of To Death and Beyond, the band’s latest effort has its own merits. This is not an album I will be returning to on the regular, but it fills its own little niche. It will be very interesting to see where they go from here!
Album Rating: 80/100
Favorite Track: Sword of the Flame
Rest in Power Mark “The Shark” Shelton. Gone far too soon.