Royal Hunt has reached the “long running career” stage, with Cast in Stone being their 14th album. Over most of that decade spanning career, they’ve stuck to their original formula, taking rock sensibilities and applying them to prog-metal. While the band was never afraid to wank and strut their musical stuff, they always wrote a catchy tune first, then packed the showboating in the right places. This is an approach many prog bands seem to prefer using in reverse, with predictably mixed results. With most of the crew returning from 2015s excellent Devil’s Dozen, little has changed in the House of Hunt. This is another slick, polished dose of slightly bombastic, somewhat symphonic prog-metal delivered with enthusiasm by seasoned, highly skilled professionals. And once again, accessibility goes hand in hand with showmanship, for ear-hooking and air guitar finger spraining good times.
Opener “Fistful of Misery” is everything fans could want in a Royal Hunt tune, sounding much like their golden era albums like Paradox1 and Moving Target. It’s the same keyboard-driven prog rockery with the impeccable voice of D.C. Cooper crooning over the top, giving the music equal doses of silk and steel. It’s catchy as hell, and oh so polished and tasteful, but heavy enough to keep metal folks on board. The bigger than Jesus chorus is something Royal Hunt always excelled at, and they deliver once again in a big way.
This is the blueprint for the rest of Cast in Stone as well. With just 7 tracks running at 50 minutes, there’s some excess and overdrive in the oatmeal, but the writing is so accessible and likable, it doesn’t feel like the songs are as bloated as they are at times. The Moog synthesizer that opens “The Last Soul Alive” is a sweet touch, giving way to an aggressive, rocking attack with keyboard flourishes decorating every guitar riff, but somehow the overall sound never gets too…floral. D.C.’s powerful voice grabs a lot of the attention and carries the listener along through the oceans of wank without making one seasick or fret-fatigued. This could almost be a Tobias Sammet composition for Avantasia, it’s so big. “Sacrifice” has another chorus large enough to colonize, and “Rest in Peace” is one of the most ballsy songs the band has ever written, charging at you like a raging bull of prog (meaning he’d be wearing a jacket with patches on the elbows).
The only song that doesn’t bowl me over is closer “Save Me II” where the band goes for a country western flavored approach that works at times, but not at others. It’s hardly a failure, but it’s definitely not broadcasting with the same wattage as the other cuts. The mix is decent, but can get a bit too cluttered when the music gets intense.
I’m a shameless D.C. Cooper fanboy, and I won’t bother denying it. I love his work with these cats, Silent Force and Steel Seal. He very nearly became the singer of Judas Priest when Rob Halford left to form Fight back in 1992 and the man has some major lung power. With Royal Hunt he never goes all “metal” and tends to stay in a restrained belt and croon, which suits the gentile material well. He sounds great here as always and elevates what are already solid songs to a level above. Andre Andersen is the band’s founder and keyboard wizard extraordinaire, and though he lavishes much attention on his piano, organ and synthesizer, somehow this never ends up sounding like a theme to an epical LARP campaign. Instead he keeps the tempo up and the rock rolling, leaving enough space for the guitars by Jonas Larsen. Larsen helps keep things heavy with meaty riffs, and often engages in dueling wank-o-thons against Andersen. There are no winners, only entertained listeners.
Royal Hunt is about as reliable a prog institution as there is, and they’re second to none at making progressive music feel accessible. This is another classy, high-quality outing with few deviations from their tried and true formula. It may be a bit less gripping than Devil’s Dozen, but it’s still light years ahead of most of their peers and exceptionally easy to love. Let he who hates a good wank cast the first stone.