When perusing the AMG Upcoming Crap We Need to Review List™ of new releases, it’s easy to judge bands based on their names. King Heavy and their self-titled debut album apparently fell into the doom metal category, and I immediately made the connection with King Giant‘s recent release – the two similarly titled bands within the same genre would surely broadly equate and offer a convenient comparative review? To my intense dismay, King Heavy could not be further from their deceptively simplistic name; it obfuscates surprisingly avant-garde (I hate that term) doom, with a great diversity of textures, timbres and tempos considering the typical uniformity of metal’s sub-genres. It’s the sort of experimentation which brings to mind Arcturus – not that the two bands sound the same, but in development from a core metal sub-genre into more avant-garde territory.
To capture the essence of their music in a few words is tough, but I’ll try to conceptualize it. Mid-paced doom is the base, certainly more rowdy and upbeat than many morose bands trying to ruin your day. But there is an elaborate superstructure constructed above this base, diversifying and bending the doom metal rules. The riffs are sometimes slow and crushing, as one would expect (see “As Dawn Broke on the Day” and the opening to “He Who Spoke in Tongues”), but at other times chugging, melodic and rollicking, biker rock style (in “Life AD” and “Wounds”). Indeed, there are breakdowns and passages which utilize a slower tempo, stranger guitar tones and lots of reverberation effects which split from doom completely – the twice occurring ‘gargoyle’ section from “La Gargola” exemplifies this. Some songs feature all of these styles, as riffs update regularly. The percussive tempo shifts frequently too, hitting bass speeds highly unorthodox for a genre typically defined by its slow pace. Throw in a few clean guitar solos sitting atop the mix and you have a wholly challenging approach to the doom sound, with many new layers bolstering the familiar core.
All this without mentioning the vocalist, Luce. Luce appears to be insane. But he’s also a strong factor as to why much of this works and why I enjoy the record. As you would expect from the diversity thus far documented, he frequently fluctuates in style. The best way to describe his cleans are as baritone faux-operatics, falling somewhere between the epic cleans heard earlier this year in Khemmis and the deranged Kim Sølve of Manimalism. His rasps and heavier vox recall recent Tom G. Warrior too. The vocal harmony from 0:35 in “Thirteen Chosen Ones” slickly unifies these two styles. His low croon on the instrumental interlude of “The Crowning” is equally powerful, and the over-pronunciation of “I… am… the GARGOYLE” in “La Gargola” is hilarious.
As far as counter-points go, I would say that it took me a while to ‘get’ what King Heavy was going for. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does require some time to unravel their sound. In addition, the opening two tracks are the most mental – perhaps too much so. Entire sections could have been cut and pasted between them and it wouldn’t make a lot of difference to the progression of either. They don’t feel like cohesive songs so much as cool passages stitched together. Conversely, “As Dawn Broke on the Day” is a bit too straight-forward by comparison, lacking the experimental edge of many other tracks. “Thirteen Chosen Ones” is a pleasing middle ground between the lunacy and simplicity, and I would be interested to hear a sequel album which is consistent with this track – avant-garde but united. The closer goes on a bit too, weakly petering out and counteracting what the rest of the record stands for.
Touching on the production, the low DR score of 5 hampers the affair. The crushed audio quality was the first thing I noticed on playing the opener, which isn’t an ideal initial impression. The drums and guitars lack the definition which would further differentiate King Heavy‘s sound from their competitors. Additional clarity would heighten the diversity of tones and styles at play, bolstering their avant-garde predilection. King Heavy certainly demonstrates a dynamic and interesting band spreading their wings into the homogeneous world of doom – perhaps their split across Chile and Belgium affords them this distinct outlook. It’s a unique release and marks a step towards the type of avant-garde more typically associated with black metal. There’s nonetheless inconsistency in the song-writing and cohesion, but one for the future for sure.