Review: “Dark Science” by Baltavar

Interpreted many ways, Dark Science can be “the science of solving the great mysteries of the universe by inventing far-out and purely hypothetical explanations” but in the case of Bulgarian Groove Thrash quartet Baltavar it’s more like the Dark Arts of potions, spells and alchemy taught by Professor Severus Snape in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter. That is the title the band have chosen for their debut album, something that has been crafted and constructed over the past five long years with live renditions of some of these tracks appearing online from shows in Sofia and from Running Free Festival in the meantime…

…opening cut “The Library” is nothing more than an atmospheric introduction depicted in the cover art before first cut proper “Angel’s Shadow” plunge us head long into Old School Thrash territory, like being forcibly dunked head first into the poison well. We’re not talking Bay Area Thrash nostalgia here either, we’re talking the kind of rough and ready material that escapes from Brazil on a regular basis over the past few decades, bands like Torture Squad and Nervosa. Vocalist Rumen Kanchev demonstrates some prowess, the repeated unhinged spoken word part “The Shadow of the Angel” being slightly unnerving on first listen and going somewhat against the grain of the music. However on repeated listens it grows on you and it may well be a fist pumping moment in the bands live show. Sounding like Max Cavalera’s take on an Exodus cover “The Devil’s Altar” is fasts and loose with a heavy bass sound from Emil Boyanov allowed to bleed through in the mix. The evil laughter and groove laden swagger is a throwback to the 90’s era of the genre, blending elements found in classic Pantera and Slayer records from that time together to make for a venomous brew. “Hunter Of Souls” sounds like it’s straight from a Robert Rodriguez movie with some funky basslines in a centre with Jazz timings adding a sprinkling of unexpected flavours, the haunting melody in the final seconds providing further intrigue. Staccato riff breaks bring home “Burn It All“, a cut which starts off in classic Old School Thrash fashion but once again deviates in the mid section in similar style to older Soulfly tunes, adding unexpected melody and meandering before bringing it back to the satisfying crunch. Those moments can be a bit hit and miss, here it works quite well. Far from the mid album ballad, “Beautiful” is more like a tale of Medusa, a nightmarish vision caught in the mirror with Kanchev reaching hitherto unheard Death Metal lows as it plays out.

Teodora Stoyanova of Freija fame offers the sirens call in “Temptation“, a classically trained operatic performer giving a whole new dimension to the sound that Baltavar are able to offer. Depending on how you look at it, that is either a blessing or a curse as on the one hand it enables the band to deliver something of darker contrast however the operatic style is more in keeping with Symphonic Metal and can be a little off putting at first. So as not to miss a trick when it comes to vocal change ups “Raven’s Destiny” has a harsh whispered verse which drives down the darkness while being a little rough around the edges compared with the polish of the previous cut. The melodic lead into “My World” proves that Kanchev can do clean vocals very well should he choose to before the band to return to the tried and tested with some vocal parts that remind of “Sweating Bullets” by Megadeth while asking the question am I evil? Krasimir Ivanov deserves a mention for his almost tribal kit work in final moments, something which gives the cut a little more flair. Riff wise, “Shine Of Darkness” is one that reaches into the void as the band approach Death Metal with a darker lyrical narrative and more punch. However they abandon that new found power with another melodic lead segment, which is fortunately short lived but sucks the energy out the piece. Where its a style choice or alludes to the need for a second guitarist for some face melting solos is a point open for debate. “Who Are You” repeats the formula of some of the earlier cuts before “Burn Boom Fire” bookends the record with an outro as the library is burned to the ground. An album that is a solid foundation with some really strong ideas, “Dark Science” bodes well for the future of Baltavar if they can be guided away from some of their more experimental moments [7/10]

Track Listing

1. The Library
2. Angel’s Shadow
3. The Devil’s Altar
4. Hunter of souls
5. Burn it all
6. Beautiful
7. Temptation ft. Teodora Stoyanova of Freija
8. Raven’s Destiny
9. My World
10. Shine of Darkness
11. Who are You
12. Burn Boom Fire

Dark Science” by Baltavar is out 3rd March 2023 via WormHoleDeath Records

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