Not content to sit around and twiddle their thumbs, HAMMER KING are back with their fifth album, Kingdemonium, hot on the heels of last year’s self-titled release. For better or for worse, the outfit’s modus operandi hasn’t changed at all in the short gap between records. Kingdemonium is another slab of German heavy metal, teeming with punchy riffs and rousing choruses abound. In many ways, Kingdemonium is essentially an extension of Hammer King before it and, as a result, is a slight double-edged sword.
Opener Invisible King sets the tone for Kingdemonium perfectly. The track, and indeed the album, is an exercise in unashamedly traditional metal, with flourishes of power metal dropped in for good measure. Between the JUDAS PRIEST-tinged twin riffs, the powerfully clean vocals of Titan Fox V and the running bassline of the verses, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a previously unheard HAMMERFALL or STRATOVARIUS cut.
It’s a high energy beginning, but Kingdemonium really starts to hit its stride on follow up track Pariah Is My Name. It’s a much needed, harder and heavier shift, with Fox accessing a semi-growled range of his voice to match the menace of the riffs. Gregorian chant vocals add to the song’s intensity before the band deliver a war cry of a chorus, paving the way for duelling guitar leads in the song’s instrumental interlude. It’s a musical force that HAMMER KING seem to effortlessly spin in to the next track, We Shall Rise, a song built around stomping riffs and fist-pumpingly catchy vocals. The winning streak continues on to Live Long, Die Nasty – a true album highlight, the track sounds like HAMMERFALL with a newfound edge thanks to its memorably epic call-and-response chorus.
It’s at this halfway point of the album that HAMMER KING try something a little different. The 7th Of The 7 Kings sees the band flex their creative muscles slightly more over a lengthier number. Its slow, deliberate marching certainly gives The 7th Of The 7 Kings a sense of grandiosity over other tracks, but the plodding never quite delivers. This becomes a theme for the album, where the tracks start to fade in to the background.
There are certainly more highlights – the galloping charge of The Four Horsemen is a suitably enjoyable diversion – but numbers like Kingdemonium, Other Kingdoms Fall and Guardians Of The Realm become indistinguishable from each other. While not bad by any stretch, listeners will find themselves bearing through generic verses so that they can reach the admittedly consistently catchy choruses. The exception is Age Of Urizen which sees the band stretching their creativity into something more expansive. Incorporating acoustic guitars, elaborate instrumental sections and a genuine sense of progression missing elsewhere on the album gives a hint of the band’s true potential.
Taken as a whole, Kingdemonium is a mostly enjoyable listen. But it’s also simply more of the same from HAMMER KING. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if all you wanted was more material in the same vein as the previous record, Kingdemonium more than delivers, and does so with passion. HAMMER KING are clearly a band with musical chops and strong song-writing tendencies, but are unfortunately bogged down by a slightly metal-by-numbers approach to music. The lack of innovation would be less of a problem on a shorter, more urgently paced album, but similar to its predecessor, Kingdemonium outstays its welcome. Encouragingly, numbers like Age Of Urizen show flashes of something bolder and bigger lurking underneath the surface – HAMMER KING just haven’t quite embraced it yet.
Kingdemonium is out now via Napalm Records.
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