Some people like their art to be divisive. Of course, no one would turn down universal acclaim, but there’s something about a work of art that splits its audience right down the middle that makes it all the more endearing—the notion of a cult classic probably wouldn’t exist without such polarity. The best part about engaging with the critical mass on a divisive subject inevitably comes in reading the reactions on either end of the critical extremes; after all, The New York Observer has kept Rex Reed on its payroll for this long, even following some pretty horrible and sexist reviews.
It’s in this dynamic that the latest release by the Greek traditional metal lovers Marauder, Elegy of Blood, finds itself. The album, the band’s fifth in a career running 22 years, is more or less summed up by its GeoCites-worthy sleeve art, which at first glance appears to be the result of a budding Satanist discovering Microsoft Paint and the “copy/paste” macros on his keyboard. It’s generic, rote, and assembled with the most rudimentary of materials. A little bit of Iron Maiden here, some Metallica-inspired riffs there, and a heaping spoonful of power metal’s thunderous bombast applied liberally—Marauder has zeroed in on its signature moves and doesn’t at all step outside of its cozy wheelhouse. There’s an attempt to make the LP larger-than-life by incorporating themes of warfare and empire, with song titles including “Hiroshima”, “World War II”, and “Roman Empire”, but unlike the war-obsessed Sabaton—who at least injects a cartoonish theatricality into its style—Marauder uses these themes to form a baseline continuity, nothing more.
All of this is to say that Elegy of Blood is, at its core, inoffensive. Traditional heavy metal enthusiasts are better off with the likes of Dawnbringer, who actually takes the time to reinvigorate old styles, but it’s not as if Marauder are disrespectful to the heavy metal tradition. Yet a lot of the first reviews for this record made it seem as if Marauder had committed a cosmic, Illud Divinum Insanus-level crime against metal. “There’s a reason why some bands make it, while others just don’t,” Chris Akin at Pitriff wrote. His 30 out of 100 review was on the tamer end of the extreme, however; one critic at Metal Storm went as far as to declare to the heavens, “I swear to Christ, if I have to hear another second of this copy + paste rhythm guitar tracking that every one of these uncreative excuses for bands use, I’m quitting Metal Storm, and reviewing for good.” How an album as utterly banal as Elegy of Blood was able to transcend mediocrity and become a symbol of everything wrong with contemporary metal is astounding, especially considering the heavy lifting that metalcore has been doing in that respect. Plenty of people have found a lot to enjoy about the album. What this divisiveness may mean, then, is that despite being pure boilerplate in its execution of classic metal, Elegy of Blood may be more explosive than its unassuming surface suggests.