I want one thing to be perfectly clear in your mind before you begin reading the body of this review: I hate Rings of Saturn. The band is the antithesis of everything I like about heavy music: they’re popular, smug, and have a fanbase largely made up of teenagers with gauged earlobes and fitted caps. Their guitar tone is incredibly clean, their drums make St. Anger look like The Destroyers of All, they have no bassist, and they throw around breakdowns as often as they throw around new age/horror sci-fi horseshit lyrics. Their records are so polished that they might as well be electronica, and they do, sadly, replicate the sound on stage. Given this, it may be a great surprise to you that I’ve been eagerly awaiting my promo copy of Lugal Ki En for quite some time now. Because Dingir was fucking excellent. Every reason I had to not listen to the album purely out of principle was absolutely blown away by the quality of the album’s writing. The sense of melody was inseparable from the brutality on display and moments of pure brilliance sprinkled themselves into the album almost effortlessly- see the solo on “Fruitless Existence.” And so Rings of Saturn became that conceptually appalling band that made one hell of an album. It’s now their chance to do it again.
To their credit, the band hasn’t changed a bit. Lugal Ki En is just as hyper-technical, hyper-clean, and hyper-driven as Dingir was and even more unapologetic. “Senseless Massacre” opens this album in the same manner that “Objective to Harvest” introduced Dingir, though a touch less effectively. From the get go, there’s an obvious tendency for the leads and riffing to take a much less dark and abrasive path than they did in Dingir, which sported proggier tonalities only after already earning a few neck injuries. This album dives right in to much brighter songs almost immediately, starting on “Desolate Paradise” and really picking up speed (so to speak) on “Natural Selection.” Sadly, neither of these turn out to be very good songs.
The greater prog influence does Lugal Ki En few favors overall. Instead of adding interest and robustness to what would otherwise be a technical take on standard deathcore tropes, cheezy and often irritating interludes get tacked on to songs that don’t need them at all. Most aggravatingly, “Lalassu Xul” begins with an unbelievably annoying circus-music melody that, just to add to my irritation, has been shifted out of tune out of what must be pure hatred for reasonable listeners. A few notes of it are picked up again later in the song, only to be mercifully put to death by a bad breakdown. Graciously, the entirety of Lugal Ki En isn’t submerged in this sort of pretentious nonsense, although it comes up pretty regularly (see the outro to “Beckon”). “Infused” deserves to be at the very least mentioned in the same breath as songs like “Shards of Scorched Flesh” from the last album, and “Godless Times” manages to breathe life into the album’s latter half.
“The Heavens Have Fallen” redeems the last few lackluster songs and is an excellent end to the album. I say this not because of its relative length, which makes it stand out from the rest of the album’s three and four minute songs or because it features some of the album’s best integration of melody and heaviness, or even because of its peaceful acoustic guitar and synth outro. No, I say this because “No Pity for a Coward,” the song that actually closes Lugal Ki En, is the most uninspired, insipid, and juvenile piece of music I’ve heard all year. It’s an encapsulation of every reason anyone has to hate this band. After making you sit through two and a half minutes of bizarrely uncreative deathcore riffing, the band introduces a bore-you-to-tears breakdown featuring a repeated vocal line that ends with the cookie-monstered phrase – I kid you not – “pull the trigger, bitch.” I doubt a more infantile attempt at being a tough bro has ever been put into song before, and to cap that steaming fecal mass, they apparently couldn’t help but to insert a few audio clips of some unnamed chucklehead talking about how great Rings of Saturn is.
I can’t say that my expectations for Lugal Ki En were very high to begin with, but the degree to which the album fails to live up to its predecessor is monumental. It’s self-congratulatory wank peppered with laughably pretentious and cheesy arrangements served on a plate of completely run-of-the-mill backing riffs and tragically sidelined percussion. It’s the Lucas Mann show for a good forty minutes followed by an advertisement for the Lucas Mann show. Dingir so successfully combined melody, technicality, and brutality into every moment of every song and in doing so, overcame how wanky and computerized it was. This album rarely can combine even two of those elements together in an effective way. It doesn’t matter how ridiculously fast or technical the leads and solos are – they’re not going to be memorable if the composition behind them is neglected, and Lugal Ki En is the unfortunate testament to that fact.