With damned few exceptions, we only write about bands we like. So if you come here often, you’re used to reading compliments about this band or that one. If we only give compliments — even when we really mean every one of them — maybe it starts to get difficult to make an impact with our praise. What do superlatives really mean when everything you say is a superlative?
Some people say that about us, but we really don’t fucking care. We ain’t changing our ways. Plus, we think we know how to make clear when a band really throws us out into an abyss of awesomeness that’s deep and wide — when a collective of musicians truly caves in our skulls in an irreparable way. Today is one of those days, the band is Ares Kingdom, and the album is aptly called Incendiary.
This is one of those instances when we feel especially challenged in our ability to accurately describe in words a sensation produced by powerful sounds. Obviously, we’re gonna try, but all we can hope to achieve is rough justice. You gotta listen for yourself to really understand what these dudes have pulled off.
How to sum this up? What’s striking about this band is their ability to connect deeply to the roots of thrash and death metal and make those sounds come alive with the same power and authenticity that have caused the genres to live as long as they have, but at the same time to create something new and amazing. (continue reading after the jump, and listen to an awesome song from Ares Kingdom . . .)
Wouldn’t you know, Ares Kingdom comes from Kansas City, Missouri. Not New York, not Sweden, not Norway. Kansas City. Not the first place you would look for this kind of band, but there they are. We’ve praised the fortitude of extreme metal bands from places like Costa Rica, Moldova, the Basque Country, and Romania, but there are cities in our own country that pose similar challenges, and Kansas City has got to be one of them
Look at the photo over to the right, and you’ll know these aren’t teenagers trying to capitalize on the latest fad. These dudes have been playing for a while. They look like they lived through the genesis of this music, like its tendrils have sunk down deep into their minds and their guts, like a life-giving form of cancer, like they’ve paid their fucking dues. And they’ve hung in there, somehow, for almost 15 years. In the music, it shows.
The band was formed in 1996. We don’t know exactly what hurdles they had to surmount to keep the music going this long, but we can guess. In that decade and a half, Ares Kingdom have produced a scattering of EPs and only one other full-length release, Return to Dust, in 2006. We suspect that the pressures to surrender over that period of time would have crushed most people trying to keep this kind of music alive, but not these dudes.
The maturity of the band shows itself in the lyrics and in the album art. Lyrically, the songs are eloquent in their condemnation of how unbelievably fucked-up the human race can be, how intolerance and extremism can lead to suffering, how shortsightedness can lead to disaster, how over-reaching selfishness can lead to Hell on earth.
At the same time, consciously or not, what the music proves is that for all the flaws inherent in human nature, we are capable of transcendence, of connecting to each other at an almost atomic level, down deep, where emotion and spirit meld us together.
And then, there’s the album art. And again, it reflects the choices of people who have lived some life and learned something from it. The cover is a painting by Joseph Pennell (1857-1926), and is titled ‘That Liberty Shall Not Perish From the Earth.’ It was a poster for the USA’s Fourth Liberty War Loan in 1918. It’s eerily current, for being almost a century old.
That’s only the start. The CD itself includes a beautiful, glossy, 16-page booklet with the lyrics written in silver calligraphy (by the band’s lead guitarist, Chuck Keller) over a background of historical artwork that connects to the lyrics of each song. It’s worth the price of admission all by itself. It’s an exhibit in support of the case that visual and musical art go hand in hand.
And then, there’s the music. (You knew we’d get there eventually.) Here, too, the maturity of these dudes is powerfully in evidence. The dominant motif is blistering thrash riffage, down-tuned, fuzzed-out, hammering, and head-bangingly compulsive. The kind of old-school thrumming that connects with the reptile part of your brain that only wants to feel and eat and breathe.
The bellowing vocals from Alex Blume are soulful and bestial and embracing — harsh and vicious and elemental in their power. Mike Miller‘s drumming is also a thing of beauty — punkish and hard-rockish and arena-rockish, with damned few blast beats or double-kicks.
But what sends this music right out into the magnetosphere are Chuck Keller’s guitar solos. Almost every song includes an attention-riveting eruption of clean guitar fire. Emerging from the fuzzed-out head-banging guitar pulses, they’re more than technically jaw-dropping. They’re organic, they’re heart-felt, they’re the kind of blistering whirlwinds that call to mind the energy and soul of the best heavy metal.
And in between the infectious head-bangers, you’ll find infectious melodic instrumentals (“The Destruction of Sennachherib”, “Consigned to the Ages”) that are as heavy as they are beautiful.
Think of the bleeding edge of rock ‘n roll over the ages — whether it’s the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones, or Led Zeppelin, or the Sex Pistols, or The Clash, or Death, or Entombed, or At the Gates, or Slayer, or fill-in-the-blanks-yourself. It’s all a young person’s game, ripping the shit out of the envelopes that enfolded whatever music had settled into a boring dominance before they arrived.
And then think of the bands that took those revolutionary novas and evolved and perfected them. And then think of the bands that breathed new life into those emergent forms of extravagance. We thing Ares Kingdom are in that league.
Forget all our wordiness. Here’s a two-word review: FUCK YEAH!
Check it out for yourself. Here’s one of the awesome tracks off of Incendiary. Listen, and then go buy this shit. You will listen to it over and over again.