This is my twentieth review for AMG. In honor of such a fine achievement, the nobility at AMG World Headquarters have bestowed upon me a fine destrier, so I can prance through the office valiantly proclaiming my fealty. Well, not really, but I was given the newest output from power-metal wannabes Hammer King, King is Rising. Which, if played loud enough, is practically the same thing. The band’s bio is utterly confusing. Apparently the band members were “hand-picked by thy majesty himself.” Who is that? The singer, Titan Fox, claims to have sung for Ross the Boss, but I find no record of such on the InterGoogle. Maybe he had a different name back then. And they apparently just came off a career-spanning hiatus, even though their first album was released a year and a half ago. Confusion reigns in the land of the Hammer King!
What’s not confusing is Hammer King’s music. These guys play the trvest of heavy metal, which today we call power metal. They write songs about kings and hammers. In fact, the words “Hammer” and “King” appear in their song titles seven times, and on their first album, Kingdom of the Hammer King, those words appear eight times. This is a very focused band! This single-mindedness gets off to an anthemic start with “King is Rising,” an uplifting and noble ditty about a king who is rising, complete with a rowdy dual-guitar melody and a big chorus. The song segues directly into “Last Hellriders,” which features a driving, relentless beat. Through two songs we have seen evidence of cheesy quality. Fox’s voice is reminiscent of Marc Storace (that’s Krokus for you young pups) and fits the music quite well. His high wails verge on nails-on-chalkboard awkwardness, but he doesn’t go for it often enough to constantly annoy.
Not every song is a proud, inspiring gallop through the gorse, though, and that’s where Hammer King lose their focus. “Warrior’s Reign” is a middling effort that goes nowhere and, due to Fox’s falsetto attempts, has the worst chorus on the album. “Reichshammer,” although a full-tilt charge, probably doesn’t need to be a song in 2016, and is in too high a key for Fox to succeed. “Viva ‘La King” provides us with the funniest moment on the record, a castanet solo, and closer “Eternal Tower of Woe” aims to be the band’s token epic, but Hammer King is not built to pull off epics and it falls flat for all of its six minutes. No, where Hammer King succeeds is on driving, anthemic gallops, like a heavier HammerFall. Standout tracks like “Last Hellriders” and “Battle Gorse” let the band truly unleash and will have you banging your head and slamming your fist in the air.
What else detracts from the ultimate enjoyment of this trve metal album? The production. The DR6 rating shows through in all its tepid glory, with the sound mashed into a constant, tiring volume. While the guitars bring a lot of bite and the bass sits admirably in the mix, the drum sounds are simply awful. I’ve heard Rubbermaid pails sound better, and when most of an album consists of rollicking Maiden-paced charges, the drums go from annoying to unbearable. The frequencies that have been notched out of the drums don’t help them stand out from the rest of the music, and the vocals and guitars share too much of the same range, resulting in a tiring listen after twelve songs.
Hammer King have a singular focus and know exactly what they want to pull off. The misses add up, though, as does the iffy production, making King is Rising an inconsistent album. At times they succeed, and when they do it is majestic. I may not have been given a fine stallion like I’d hoped, but their anthems had me running between the AMG cubicles banging coconut shells together. Walk proudly, my friends, and carry a big hammer [Put the Banhammer back in my office. – Steel Druhm].