Kings of Mercia – Kings of Mercia Review

Here we are for Round 2 of Battle of the Bands. Round 1 took place back on August 12, when Ray Alder and Mark Zonder conspired to release their exceptionally strong A-Z album. Now we’ve got the response from Jim Matheos and Joey Vera, another eponymous debut, by their new band Kings of Mercia. Joining this half of Fates Warning is Steve Overland (singer for the UK version of FM1) and Simon Phillips (drummer for a million bands, most predominantly Toto, and most recently this summer’s excellent Derek Sherinian solo album, but also Judas Priest’s Sin After Sin). Much like A-Z, Kings of Mercia present a stripped-down hard rock/metal album, virtually abandoning Fates Warning’s prog metal. Let’s see how this album stacks up.

With Kings of Mercia being the brainchild of Matheos, you know you will get some sweet guitar tone and, hopefully, some great solos and a sprinkling of riffs. You also know that the Vera/Phillips rhythm section will be locked down nice and tight; they are both stalwarts in their respective fields. “Wrecking Ball” demonstrates this early, with a deft odd-timed riff, a killer (and killer-sounding) guitar solo, and a strong chorus. Around here we use the term Dad Metal a lot, and “Wrecking Ball” is classic Dad Metal. “Liberate Me” is another song that plies the tried-and-true waters of reliable 80’s metal, with its driving rhythm and strong vocal arrangement. Overland does a solid job in his delivery, but three weeks into this album I’m wincing. Why? You’ll have to keep reading…

Matheos seems set on sticking to the classic album format of the olden days, meaning each “side” of Kings of Mercia comes with a ballad. Yay. Neither of those songs is “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” though. Each side, sadly, also comes with ample filler. The filler songs lack compelling riffs and melodies, and float by harmlessly. But when the band brings it, boy do they ever. Closing track “Your Life” is slow and dark, with superb feel and a stunning riff. It stands up to the best of A-Z’s output. “Set the World on Fire” does as well, again because it features a solid riff, a tight arrangement, and a memorable chorus. A few more of these songs are needed for the album to really leave a mark.

Two things drag this album down: the dearth of catchy moments, and Overland’s singing tic. Tic? Yes, tic. At the end of around half his lines, he does this short, massively annoying exhale. It’s his thing, maybe, although I’ve never heard him sing before and don’t feel like going back to any FM material. This habit won’t rub everyone the wrong way, but it rubs me the wrong way and I’m the one writing. After playing the album nine times, the exhale is beyond annoying. Shame, because Overland’s voice is actually kind of classic-sounding. As to catchy moments, there are some great songs on here – “Set the World on Fire” and “Your Life” in particular are standout tracks – but just as often we run into mundane, generic numbers like “Sweet Revenge” and “Nowhere Man.” The ballads “Everyday Angels” and “Too Far Gone” could be the same song.

Kings of Mercia sounds great, and vocal tic notwithstanding there are some strong melodies to be found. But if this is a playoff between A-Z and Kings of Mercia, A-Z wins hands down2. What would have been better yet would be to have the two bands combine their best songs and release it as a non-prog Fates Warning album. That album would have been in my Top Ten-ish for sure. I suppose we can all dream, can’t we?


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: kingsofmercia.com | facebook.com/KingsofMercia
Release Worldwide: September 23, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. I’ve never listened to them, but I have the debut album of Canada’s FM, which featured Nash the Slash back in 1978.
  2. If you get my Armored Saint reference, step forward for your free beer.
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