Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Album Review: Hammer King - King Is Rising

Traditional metal has had a bad year. For whatever reason, it seems like there have been fewer releases coming out playing the old-school variety of metal, and even fewer of them have been worth listening to. As metal continues to move further and further down into modern territory, with death metal slowly taking over everything, there hasn't been much room for the old guard, nor has there been much to celebrate about it. Sabaton might be the one 'savior' of the genre, but they have established themselves now as putting out regular, brief albums where the coast along on their laurels. No, traditional metal has been in a slump, and Hammer King will need an awfully big hammer to bust out of it.

Like the cover would suggest, Hammer King is making the kind of traditional metal that would carry you into battle, with hymns to some imaginary metal gods asking for protection as we wage war against the forces of bad taste. Or something like that. The reality is that they're making the kind of metal that can easily take itself far too seriously. All we have to do is look at Manowar to see how a bit of ego can infect the music like a deadly pathogen, taking something fun and turning it into the biggest joke we've ever seen.

Thankfully, Hammer King doesn't allow themselves to be taken that far down the rabbit hole. They keep themselves on the right keel, where the music is not weighed down by its own sense of self. These are, by and large, short and speedy numbers that want to get the blood pumping and the fists raised. On that level, they success fairly often. The songwriting isn't quite as sharp as the Hammerfall albums that defined the modern version of this music, and there isn't quite as much personality to the vocals as Saboton or Grand Magus, but the overall package is enjoyable.

The album gets off to a good start, with a few numbers that have the hooks that traditional metal needs, but the middle of the record start to bog down when the tempos also slow. The best traditional metal needs to either have riffs that break away from the usual chugging and galloping, which Hammer King doesn't, or you need massive choruses that the crowd can sing along with. That latter area is where the band comes up short. These aren't bad songs, but they aren't carrying the kind hooks that the crowd will sing along with. They're more chants, and while those have their place, they don't replace a strong melody as the basis for a song.

So with Hammer King we get an illustration of where traditional metal is right now. There's plenty of bands making decent music, like this, but nothing that is making much of a mark. "King Is Rising" might try, but it doesn't fully rise.

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