(Wil Cifer reviews the new album by Atlanta’s Death of Kings.)
In the past I never felt the other recorded efforts by this Atlanta band were accurate representations of what they really do on stage. The vocals on previous releases often had a lower, more throaty husk to them, like old Mastodon. In other releases the guitar tone was recorded to give a false death metal density. I think anything that doesn’t properly paint these guys as a thrash band is misleading.
But with their new album we are getting what I have heard come from the monitors. The screechy vocals that sound like a more feral version of Overkill. The more razor-sharp guitar tone, one that feels more natural when it comes to the mid-paced gallop on “Sojurn”, which appeared on their 2015 demo. The double-bass gets heavier on the chorus and muddies the mix a bit, but I think the biggest takeaway is how they have matured as songwriters, and it’s not just about finding cool riffs. Even with the tempestuous drumming, all the moving parts just seem to lock in better to tell the story.
They do bring in lower vocals to offer a call and response with higher snarls on “Regicidal”, and “Descent into Madness” is more of a wink to Slayer. Matson’s vocals shift into a Tom Araya-like bark. The riff to the second verse is not to headbang to, but has the chord progression shifts to give it more meat.
Their chug is in full effect as “Hell Comes to Life”, while the drumming is impressive and keeps things moving until the more mosh-inducing riffs crop up. If you haven’t heard it from me before, my rule is that cool riffs alone don’t make a song. That is somewhat challenged here. These guys are old punk rock kids, so the songs are best kept closer to the three-minute mark, as more Iron Maiden-like epics just aren’t their thing.
“Knifehammer” has also seen the light of day on an earlier release. This version doesn’t offer anything that I haven’t heard from them before and is aggressive thrash with a dark side.
The vocals stay pretty nasty for “Plague ( Upon the World)”. It’s like if Dark Angel’s guitar player wanted to invent death metal before Chuck Schuldiner. By the end of the song, blast-beats be damned, you can hear this is still thrash. Granted, they have gotten heavier since they got their start 8 years ago, but it’s rooted in thrash.
Partially due to the fact most of this band grew up as punk rock kids, not metalheads, the more straight-forward, gang-vocal-filled punk crossroads of “Too Fast For Blood” is well done, though if you have read enough of my stuff you can see where that sort of thing is not going to hold the most appeal for my tastebuds. The tight gallop of “Revel in Blasphemy” is much more my thing. The gang vocals resurface but feel a little like a more metallic version of the previous song. The vocals are snarled in such a rapid fashion that there is no room for melody or for the vocals to form any kind of hook to bring me back to when they are flying at that speed.
I am a tough sell on thrash because I was there when the genre hit its peak, and bought Flotsam and Jetsam albums when they came out and saw Overkill in 1988. So having already gotten the shirt, I want to hear where Death of Kings are trying to show me how they are in these songs. I think their sound has arrived to where they want it, and this album was more fun and more accurate as to what they really sound like, and it makes them a thrash band to keep a ringing ear out for.