There’s so much music out there that it’s easy for good bands to get lost in the shuffle. Enter Ares Kingdom. Formed in 1996 by guitarist Chuck Keller and drummer Mike Miller shortly before the breakup of their famed blackened death metal band Order From Chaos, the Kansas City group soon added vocalist and bassist Alex Blume (Blasphemic Cruelty) to their ranks to become the ultimate death-thrash power trio. Their 2006 debut Return to Dust and 2010’s Incendiary are two of my favorite albums the genre has ever produced, with the latter still reigning as one of my favorite records of this decade. The band’s frantic and melodic riffing, dynamic songwriting, and empowering lyrics about warfare and history have always reminded me of a death-ier Destroyer 666, which is about the highest compliment that can be given by a slobbering D666 fanboy like myself. Even with the slight step down that was 2015’s The Unburiable Dead,1 it’s still a shame Kingdom aren’t bigger than they are.
But perhaps that’ll change with By the Light of Their Destruction. When considering what direction to take for the band’s fourth album, Keller unearthed some old recordings from his “ambient blackened death” project Vulpecula and decided to work them into new Kingdom material with the intent of taking the band in a more primitive direction. In practice this has resulted in an album of shorter and more condensed cuts. Despite being the band’s shortest album by about five minutes, Destruction actually has more tracks on it than its predecessor and is the first Kingdom album where no song exceeds six minutes.
That’s not to say these tracks are simple. Songs like “Eighteen Degrees Beneath,” “Burn, Antares,” and opener “The Hydra Void” work like mini suites that progress logically and gloriously through a bevy of riffs that are alternately melodic, percussive, and thrashing. The main melodic riff of “Hydra Void” neighs and charges into a battle like a wild war horse and evokes the finest moments of Kingdom classics like “Firestorm Redemption,” even if the songs themselves never quite reach those heights. As before Keller’s guitars are the most powerful weapon in the arsenal, with the man delivering several memorable moments like the devastating Bolt Thrower chugs that open “The Bones of All Men.” His solos remain just as glorious as always, alternately soaring and shredding like trained birds of prey.
Blume holds his own with a vomited, raspy roar that’s both mighty and entirely intelligible. The man has always been a favorite of mine and his performance here is just as angry and passionate as always, even managing to deliver some cool hooks like the repeated shouts of “Draconis!” that precede the stomping ending of “Eighteen Degrees Beneath.”2 Yet while the production ensures his vocals ring clear, the same can’t be said for everything else. Possibly in support of the more “primitive” approach, the guitars and bass sound a bit muddled and though it’s not a major issue, a sharper sound definitely could have added more life to things. Likewise, the way these songs often cram together so much means that some ideas (like the fantastic opening riff of “Burn, Antares”) don’t get enough time in the spotlight. Closer “Talis Chimera Est” also fades off rather unceremoniously and makes me wish Keller would have given us one of the band’s good old sprawling epics to close things out properly.
Yet ultimately, Destruction is still a strong album and an improvement over its predecessor, which I found to be somewhat unfocused and lacking the punch of prior material. This record is both complex and direct, fierce and melodic, and brimming with the sense of fiery, inspired triumph that Kingdom have always possessed. Destruction shows exactly why these guys are one of the best kept secrets in the underground and any fan of death-thrash is sure to love this. It’s one thing for a band to have their own sound, it’s quite another to hear it executed so damn well. Ares Kingdom manage both. While I wouldn’t put this on the same pedestal as the first two albums, past fans will no doubt enjoy this and for the uninitiated, this is as good a chance as any to join the ranks.