As I often explain to the norms that are curious about what’s like being in a band full-time, it’s like a tenuous polygamous marriage, so it’s no surprise when great bands break up. Typically one of your favorite bands calling it a day is laden with as much pain as your first teenage heartbreak. In the case of Order From Chaos, the band’s demise wasn’t due to ego or vague musical differences, it was by design. The plan was to release three full-lengths and then fold and that’s precisely what they did. Rather than even remotely overstaying their welcome, they went out on the highest and grimiest note possible. In their wake we were given a murder of blackened bands like Angelcorpse, Vulpecula, Kerasphorous, and more. Right at the fore of that flock is Ares Kingdom, the long-standing project comprised of two-thirds of Order From Chaos: vastly unsung guitar visionary Chuck Keller and flagellator Mike Keller on drums, rounded out by the carcinogenically-throated Alex Blume on bass and vocals.
It’s been five years since their sophomore release Incendiary, two since their covers album Veneration, and since Ares Kingdom perfected their brand of blackened thrash/death metal. In this day and age where every hole of the corpse has been fucked to the point of gaping, it’s not uncommon for a metal band to sound derivative. Such is the strength of Ares Kingdom. No other band sounds like them. No drummer. No guitarist. No vocalist. Unavoidably, there are moments reminiscent of Keller and Miller’s former projects, but still Ares Kingdom very much has its own sound, taking from all extreme genres and forging their own on this, their third album, The Unburiable Dead.
World War I is a heavy lyrical topic for a concept record, and as with the best of Voivod, the music on The Unburiable Dead conveys the concept but never at the expense of the riff. Keller’s performance is unhinged but precise. Like early Sodom, he and the whole triumvirate at times play so frantically it sounds as if they are on the verge of dissolving into total chaos. “Demoralize” hammers the listener with a buzzsaw riff in the chorus as the trials and tribulations of war batter both sides of the struggle. “Writhe: Fettered to a Corpse,” the sole instrumental, is a testament to the strength of Keller’s songwriting, conveying the notion that the German High Command’s alliance with the floundering Austria-Hungary was a burden rather than a benefit without the use of words. That’s not to discount from Blume’s emotive vocal delivery. When he spews, “Wave upon wave upon wave upon wave,” during the album opener, “Ubique,” he delivers each word with the ferocious impact of a Luger bullet to the base of the skull. His voice is surprisingly intelligible for a man that sounds like he gargles battery acid, a rarity in extreme music. The title track, about those who lost their lives in the Great War, is a heavy death metal song that carries weight with riff and lyric and is a strong contender for song of the year.
Keller’s lyrical abilities are as strong as his composing. On “Salient and Redoubt,” he captures the desperation and misery of a stalemate on the battlefield with the most poignant lines of the whole proceeding, “We’re here because we’re here, Hell no longer of fire and flame. Hell is mud.” One of the standout songs on the album, Mike Miller’s pounding performance perfectly accentuates the material. He never overplays, rather surges forward with the power of a German A7V tank, delivering a perfectly ballistic battery. The production is very live. As with the previous Ares Kingdom releases, the drums particularly sound as if you are standing in the room with the band. One of my favorite things about the production is the sound of the fingers sliding on the strings. Like with Voivod, particularly on Dimension Hatross, the sounds, the swishes, the clanks of the instruments are as much a part of the music as the notes they are playing.
Ares Kingdom should be celebrated in this era of the single, of iTunes, of record labels folding, for making music that matters not because the collective public can hum along to it, but because the topic matter is as heavy as the material. We owe a debt of gratitude to these three musicians for throwing commercialism to the wind. For releasing an album that will sell a few thousand copies but will mean something to every individual that gets it. Ares Kingdom will never be a band to decamp from the underground, so let us shelter them. Let us hoist them up on our shoulders and carry them to the ears of those that long to bask in the days before the internet sucked all the mystery and majesty out of the music that we, the select, know is one of the few things left worth fighting for.