Blackguard – Firefight
Release: 2011Mar29 (US)
Label: Victory Records
I first saw Blackguard perform in late 2009 on tour with Ensiferum, Hypocrisy, and Ex Deo. They weren’t the best band of the night, nor the worst, and birthed from the fertile Montréal metal scene. But as I researched the band for this review, I became amazed how they’ve been jerked around over the past decade, especially the last few years. So they were once called Profugis Mortis (the Latin roughly translates to “Fugitives of Death”), which was deemed unmemorable when they won the Nuclear Blast MySpace Band Contest, way back in 2008 when that actually existed and kinda mattered.
Who signed them in the US? Sumerian Records. The deathcore-laden label probably had good intentions, then for one reason or another, dropped the band after only one release. Now the hardcore-heavy Victory has them for their sophomore followup, and I feel history repeating itself. The first comparison band on their glossy color one-sheet is DragonForce…why, because both bands have keyboards and sometimes use the elusive term “epic” to describe their music? What about Between the Buried and Me… because your biggest name just jumped ship to Metal Blade, and they incorporate synth as well? Amon Amarth, because of the the scarcely-similar battle references? Fuck, it’s not until they mention Children of Bodom that we get anywhere near a true connection.
To be blunt, they do not match the bombast, progressiveness, and dominating presence of those first three bands, respectively. But Bodom, yes. The vocals are the most obvious connection. Paul Ablaze sounds hair-raisingly close to Alexi Laiho, and while he does not enunciate as well as the Finn, he’s every bit as vicious. Six-string duties are handled by rhythm man Terry Roadcase and Kim Gosselin, who arranges most of the songs; though one exception is the midalbum classical instrumental “Iblis”—composed and performed by bassist Étienne Mailloux. He locks on solid all across Firefight with my favorite aspect of Blackguard: Justine Éthier, one of the most talented chicks I’ve ever seen behind the drums, who maintains remarkable composure while kicking much ass.
It’s difficult to remember a lot of these tunes, not gonna lie. When you don’t understand 90% of the words, you need musical hooks to sink in, or at least an occasional passage to chant. The title track nails hardest, matched only by “The Fear of All Flesh”—both of which have mellower music beforehand, so maybe the contrast helps. I want to like “A Blinding Light” more, but I can’t shake the feeling like the chorus is straight CoB.
“The Path” felt well-traveled, and you’ll like where it brings you: “Sarissas”, where there are stronger folk melodies and the best use of symphonic keyboards on the album. Still, even though Blackguard ends on a high note, I don’t sense replay value overall. Perhaps invoking their regional history will help them find their voice, because otherwise it’s interchangeable.
Try: 2, 7, 8, 10
05. Cruel Hands
07. The Fear of All Flesh
08. A Blinding Light
09. The Path