Right out the gate, “Spirit to the Flesh” grabs hold of the listener with a grim, almost crawling piece of melodic death metal, but also the sense of familiarity. Yes, this is yet another band that sounds like Amon Amarth, something that we will touch on later in this review. It is a nice little introduction to the album with subtle Tyr grade folk elements found in the nordic melodies dispersed throughout. Even “The Unnamed Magic” pulls that aspect to the forefront, complimented by clean dialogue and hymnal hooks that make you feel as though you are at a viking funeral. Sadly, that touch kind of ends here before becoming a little more generic further on, though most notably during “Left for the Vultures”. It’s a sombre piece that mixes hard-hitting mid-tempo riffs with truly miserable, rain-soaked slower passages that nicely convey the morose tone of the remains on the field following the battle, especially at the end before jumping into “There Will be Blood” which steps away from the forlorn themes with more of an early gothenburg-era In Flames sound. It’s at this point the whole album could have ended as the rest just sounds like more of the same first half, and eventually becomes hard to sit through even on your first spin.
But then you have the moments that show the band incorporating a little more to their music than the customary Amon Amarth or Bolt Thrower aspects. Title track “Banners of Destruction” kick things off with a hint of thrash in the lead riffs on par with fellow countrymen Kreator. While not a bad thing, some of the hooks sound like they come straight from Enemy of God or even Hordes of Chaos, all the while mixed in with an With Oden on Our Side template. Even a good part of “Tongues of Hatred” sounds like if you replace vocalist Axel Müller with Mille Petrozza, you could have a new Kreator album, just with some subtle death metal undertones.
But, when all is said and done, Battlesword did form in 1999, and their debut in 2003. Comparing this band’s output to early Amon Amarth, there are pretty glaring similarities, even dating back to Once Sent from the Golden Hall. So, at that time, this wouldn’t have been that big an issue and it would have become a simple case of who can do it better or mature into their own sound. However, given the thirteen year silence and Banners of Destruction wearing its influences on its sleeves, it’s a bit late for this recording to really be considered relevant. In fact, all it made me want to do since “The Unnamed Magic” started was go throw on my copy of The Fate of Norns.
But does this make Banners of Destruction a bad album? Well, no. Even though I found myself zoning out from time to time through various spins due to how familiar everything was (and finding what was missed was about on par with my expectations), the aforementioned primary influence/similarity has gone in more of an epic output at times, while Battlesword remains cemented in more of a restrained approach with some hard-hitting infectious hooks, leading to a more grounded experience. Couple that with a fantastic cold and war-ridden atmosphere that lingers through the air like the scent of decay and it becomes hard to not respect the band for the quality of the material captured on this recording. For that, Banners of Destruction is at least worth giving a quick once over from start to finish, but you probably won’t be running back for seconds anytime soon, if at all.