Monday, May 21, 2012

A King Reborn - Kingsblood - 2012

I'm been clamoring for a piece of recorded music from Kingsblood ever since seeing them live for the first time in October of 2011. A King Reborn, the debut EP from the revamped lineup (that also debuted live for the first time at that October show), was released last week and not only captures the bulk of Kingsblood's current live set in the studio but whets the appetite for what this fan hopes will be a long and fruitful career for these blackened merchants of Nordic death.

"A Warriors Past" opens the EP and immediately establishes a powerful presence, setting the tone for the driving, riff-fueled assault that powers most of the band's work thus far. War has called to me and I / Will answer to its will / To end the wrath of the tyrant God who sits upon the throne / Made of skulls / He must pay / For the lives / He has taken from my kind launches a fierce, valiant battle cry but, three minutes in, however, the tempo shifts along with the lyric - I feel so alone / In this never ending quest - and, because Amon Amarth comparisons are inevitable, it is with high praise that I draw parallels with my favorite of that band's work, "Fate of Norns." A range of emotions cascade across five minutes and what could be effective enough as simple rage is elevated instead to a strata of sorts, all converging toward the same goal even as the definition of the warrior's destiny leans ever more toward assured destruction. Bravado segues into isolation and transforms, finally, to glorious resignation to one's fate: This is my fight / Tyrant will fall / As we march to our end / I will show no fear / This is my time of death / This is my time to rise / We will fight / We will die.

"The Creature from the Black Forest" follows a similar stylistic pattern, again shifting tempo at the halfway point but delivers an entirely different experience. The lyric appears to recount the Norse mythology surrounding the offspring of Loki and, while details differ depending upon the source, the tale is generally told that one of Loki's sons was transformed into a wolf and slaughtered his own brother whose own entrails were then used to bind Loki to a stone as a viper poisoned him, causing convulsions which shook the very earth. Wicked shit. This time, at about the three-minute mark, the song is scaled back and frames a deliberate, focused lead that leads a spearhead of sound, powered by drums sounding as if borne of desperation and, particularly, revenge on a cosmic scale: They will fall, Gods will die they will / Fall to their knees all will fall / They shall pay beg for life as they cry out / The time of man is now / Son of Loki / Beast of the North / Monster of the River Van.

Frost giants. How the hell can one go wrong with a song about frost giants? The answer is: "they cannot." And Kingsblood do it so right with "Jotunheimr Rising." Similar to "A Warriors Past," "Jotunheimr Rising" is narrated from a fearless point of view yet one aware that a battle against the frost giants cannot end well: They love to take what's ours / They love to eat our flesh / They are the wicked beings / They will take pleasure in killing / They will peel our flesh / Devour us. James Watson's percussion is at its most militantly precise here, driving on the march and, as the battle begins, a rapidly slithering lead streams through the fray like blood across ice from 2:33 to 3:03 and Alex Nida proclaims We shall fight / The glory is ours. Yeah... 'til they peel your flesh.

The title track may be my favorite on the entire EP as it somehow ratchets the intensity up a notch and departs most significantly from the rest of the platter's contents with a lead sharing space with vocals early on, vocals which continue to crescendo in volume and intensity through the halfway mark when guitars converge, regroup and the entire band unleashes hell from 3:12 forward. There is no victory / For those who have not given their lives / My strength is yours / I will be there ... As we ascend ... We must rise ... Now is your time / You must ascend / Return to the throne / My King. Everyone is at their very best here and credit is long overdue at this point to Jason "McFly" Kincaid and Damon Ark, steadfast as Heimdall, launching riff after glorious riff as if trying to coax the onset of Ragnarök with every one. They damn near succeed.

Are there any criticisms to be leveled? At least one. I simply wish the bass (both guitar and drums) was given more heft in the mix. Jeramy "Slinky" Stephens adds an immense presence on the bass in a live setting and I thought his contributions were buried a little too deeply for my taste. The record rumbles with riffs but I found myself fooling with the equalizer too much to try to bring the low end to the fore. I wanted the house to shake as if Ymir himself were giving birth to the earth. That said, the production remains rich and full overall and has enough of an edge to communicate the momentum and drive that characterize the band's sound. From the outstanding artwork and photography on the packaging to the stellar musicianship put to record, A King Reborn is an exceptionally impressive release from a fantastic band and one that more than lives up to my own lofty expectations.

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