ROYAL HUNT_XIII Devil's DozenRoyal Hunt has been knocking around the prog-metal circuit forever, and though they’ve dropped a few killer releases, I’d describe their overall discography as a bit spotty. There are those classic albums where their melodic AOR/metal style really hit a sweet spot, and others were it feels like they’re stuck in a lower gear. Their golden age was in the mid 90s with vocalist extraordinaire, D.C. Cooper (Silent Force, Steel Seal) and most fans would likely point to 1997s Paradox as their crowning achievement. After Cooper left, they got by with good but less dynamic singers (John West, Mark Boals), but the magic of their salad days was never recaptured. Cooper returned to the fold in 2011 and things improved immediately, and that brings us to XIII Devil’s Dozen, their thirteenth album. Three albums into Cooper’s return and they’ve definitely rediscovered that elusive sweet spot. Cooper gives one of his best performances and the writing drips with melody and writhes with hooks. I guess thirteen isn’t always an unlucky number.

The opening strains of “So Right So Wrong” show Royal Hunt have lost none of their taste for excess, with pompous orchestration sitting alongside the rock/metal riffs. When Cooper joins the fray, it sounds like a trip back to 97 and things immediately adopt a very Paradox-centric approach – layered as bejezzus but extremely catchy and anthemic, and when the big chorus drops, you almost have to find a mirror and do your best overly dramatic rock star impression. Cooper sounds amazing and his voice might even be richer and more nuanced than it was in the 90s.

The high point comes early with “May You Never (Walk Alone)” which is the quintessential Royal Hunt song; bombastic, bigger-than-life and so catchy it hurts. It begins with the excellent line “I have been stuck behind this wobbling desk for hours now,” which anyone who ever worked in an office can relate to, and things just get better from there. There’s a real power and urgency to the song, with ripping guitar and keyboard exchanges and Cooper’s powerful vocals blasting right through the middle of it all. It’s heavy enough to fit his work with Silent Force and definitely shows why he was a finalist to replace Rob Halford in Judas Priest before they went with Ripper (AMG screed to follow).

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While the album definitely reaches it’s zenith early, the rest of the songs are almost as good with the band safely in their comfort zone and writing their best material in years. “Heart on a Platter” rocks a slightly jazzy swing before the orchestral arrangements and symphonic gobbly-gook arrive.  “Tears in the Rain” has an unbearable cheesy title but the song itself is great, with Cooper doing duets with Alexandra Popova (Eclipse Hunter) for extra pop and sizzle. “Until the Day” is as dramatic as a power ballad can get without being on Broadway, but you’ll still find yourself singing it as you mow the lawn and clean the gutters (mind the jazz hands or you might fall).

There isn’t an off moment here, and even though the songs are mostly six to seven minutes, they never feel overlong or bloated. They actually seem to zip by too fast and demand immediate replay. The only problem is the production, which is surprisingly brickwalled and compressed for a band this technical and classically influenced. With their propensity to thickly layer the songs, this ends up creating a dense wall of sound more appropriate for a Sabaton album and I wish they’d opted for a richer, more dynamic mix.

D.C. CooperWhat impresses me most is the balance between instrumental wankery and deft, irresistibly catchy writing. Founder and sole original member, keyboardist Andre Anderson never misses a chance to fling the keys with gusto, and his frequent duels with guitarist Jonas Larson are always inspired lunacy (especially during “May You Never”). Luckily, they never interfere with the ebb and flow of the songs or cause the album to feel bogged down in one-upmanship (technically known as “Dream Theater-ism“). D.C. Cooper is the essential ingredient to the Royal Hunt stew, and he sounds positively amazing here. His broad range and powerful delivery elevate the high-level writing and give the songs an extra punch few other singers could. He’s one of the most versatile vocalists in all of metal and it feels like this is where he’s at his best.

There’s more polish here than on any ten investment banker’s wingtips, but when the songs are this entertaining and memorable, you can excuse the absence of grit and grime. Everything seemed to come together for them with this particular batch of tunes and it isn’t a stretch to say this is as close to Paradox as they’ve ever gotten. I’d recommend Devil’s Dozen to anyone, but especially those who like prog-metal that puts the songs ahead of technical masturbation. Royal Hunt is back, baby!


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Frontiers Records
Websites: royalhunt.com | facebook.com/royalhunt
Releases Worldwide: August 21st, 2015

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  • Prostidude

    They certainly bring the cheese, especially on ‘until the day’. I’m not surprised you liked this lieutenant Druhms, though I’m curious what the review would have been like if anybody else had written it.

    • Hey, the songs are pretty damn hard to resist.

      • They’re accessible, not noodly wanking (like some progressive metal outfit wishing they were jazz musicians) and the musicianship is top notch.

        Great album…

  • Darren

    I really liked A Life to Die For so I’m pretty sure I’m gonna enjoy this one too.

  • CarvedInStone

    Royal Hunt rock! They last few albums have all been good. But I have to admit I like the two albums he recorded with Mark Boals better. The songwriting was more to the point on these records. Good album nonetheless from the Yngwie Malmsteen of Keyboards.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    ‘Until the Day’ really fits a Shakespeare play. Still is awesome, and GOD that layering!
    And the extreme left of the band pic: Ozzy Osbourne is here!

    • I thought that was Geddy Lee!

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        That´s Geddy Lee’s and Peter Steele’s lovechild, all grown up now.

      • Doomdeathrosh

        Now we’re ‘Rush’ing to conclusions!

  • Martin Knap

    “There are those classic albums where their melodic AOR/metal style really hit a sweet spot, and others were it feels like they’re stuck in a lower gear.” – that’s exactly how I feel when I compare Fear to Eye Witness. I’m really looking forward to hear this album.

  • sir_c

    This is a cheeseplate served without LaBrie.

    In other words: this sounds pretty excellent, sir. I’ll check their catalogue for sure.

  • JL

    Nice review. Maybe I will revisit this album this week. I was very disappointed upon first listen. D.C. Cooper is one of my favorite vocalists. His work on Silent Force’s album World’s Apart is his crowning achievement (his solo record close behind). World’s Apart, by the way, should be listened to by everyone. It’s such a great record.

    On this album though, I think he still sounds great, but there aren’t any hooks…not many vocal melodies that really grab you. A Life to Die For had great songs like A Bullet’s Tale and One Minute Left to Live. I don’t find the equivalent on this record.

    • San Eutocio

      I have given to the album 3 listens so far and I have the same feeling. So far the worse album RH has produced since DC came back.

  • Sounds good! Will check it out.

  • Great review, I am a huge fan of Cooper’s voice. I own their entire discography on CD and they are truly an underrated band. As great as Paradox was, I believe the last three Cooper fronted releases are their three best. Not many bands age this gracefully and get better this far into their career (maybe Pretty Maids).

  • Monsterth Goatom

    It’s inspiring to see older bands like Symphony X, Pentagram, and Royal Hunt continuing to put out great albums. Still lots of gas left in the tank. Some great work on this one.

    With that said, and I feel like the odd man out here, Cooper’s vocals don’t work for me. Maybe I have to listen more, and explore their back catalogue, but his singing sounds quite nasal, airy, and “in the head”, and lacks the kind of Oomph you get with singing from the diaphragm.

    • Good day to you, sir!

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Sorry. I will keep listening.

  • Neb Bojer

    SD, where is the new Maiden review?

    • Should arrive any day. We just got the promo a few days ago and it’s a lot to absorb.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Yep, I literally can’t sit still for this release