Things have been rather hectic here at the Hall as ov late. N00blings are blossoming into semi-functional writers, eagerly frittering about with their promos clasped to their chests and causing general chaos as they run amok. Adding further confusion to the fray, THE SYSTEM… IS DOWN; our website maintenance platform has been as cooperative as Julian Assange, thrusting our fabled Sentynel into a battle that has left vast digital bedlam in its wake. Amidst this sea of gleefully scurrying hordes and flames, order is nowhere to be found. In all this madness, I heard a voice cry out, choked and rasping from ash and years of hobo wine: “One of you overrating bastards better cover Pulver, or I’ll see to it that Madam X haunts you to the end of your Jørn-forsaken lives!” I am not a Jørn fearing Muppet, nor do I tremble at the prospect of chaos, but I also don’t feel like getting haunted by an infernal demigoddess or her simian Viking consort.
So here we are. That absurd album art, my admittedly heretical aversion to traditional metal and the fact that Steel was the one championing them were enough strikes to end that game any other day… and it turns out I should have just stayed home and faced my fate with an HR complaint form in hand. Kings Under the Sand isn’t awful, but that’s about the extent of my praise. Don’t get me wrong, guitarists Alex Oster and Lukas Kunkel do some nifty string things, and Dave Fröhlich occasionally reaches Necromantic heights with his gravely Nazareth-meets-early-Mastodon vocal attack; Pulver display more than trace amounts of talent on this album, but not enough for them to be kings of anywhere. If a few decent riffs and a Muppety moment or two are all you’re here for, read on; if you have higher standards and demands, move on.
For starters, Kings Under the Sand is rife with no-nos. Exhibit A: if your sound is B-minus Iron Maiden with a spläsh of Mötley Crüe, you probably don’t need an instrumental intro (“Rising”), and you definitely don’t need an instrumental interlude (“Alpha and Omega”). Exhibit B’s one and two (“Warrior Caste” and the title track): if you’re gonna commit to a ball shredding shriek of Steel Panther proportions, actually fucking commit to it; Fröhlich’s hoarse delivery is palatable enough in its most focused and sincere moments, but these unnecessary reaches for a range that’s too far away for him to hold only fuel the fires of my discontent. If the surrounding instrumentation were stronger, these flubs might feel less offensive and even forgivable.
It’s not. Though I can appreciate the dual Iron Maideny guitar work of Oster and Kunkel, I couldn’t begin to recall any particular riffs from Kings off the top of my head, and the melodies have a tendency to waffle on aimlessly while offering little payout for the listeners’ patience. Some of this stems from a general sense of listlessness that pervades the album, largely instilled by its formulaic, repetitive songwriting and often felt most fiercely and frustratingly in moments where all signs point to a bitching solo that never really takes off (most painfully so during “Qarinah”, “Curse of the Pharoah”). The other key culprit in these crimes against compelling compositions is the somewhat lackluster guitar tone; when surrounded by drums and vocals, the NWOBHM strings sound solid and sufficient enough, yet there’s a certain absence of ooompf in many of the album’s more guitar-centric moments, all the same, brought about by a hollow tone that fails to capture the classic metal glory these Germans are paying tribute to. Normally, this is where I’d suggest a less-than-stellar album be given a place as background playlist filler, but… Yeah, not today.
Needless to say, I’ll not be revisiting Kings anytime soon. Aluminum Maiden just ain’t my thing, yo, and I’d have a hard time imagining it to be anyone else’s given the compositional superiority of Pulver‘s idols. Between The Necromancers, Idle Hands, The Riven and countless others, there have been too many far more engaging albums released this year for me to feel right recommending Kings to even diehard fans of the genre. I mean good Jørn, even Greta van Fleet put more energy and creativity into their works, shameless hacks though they may be. Either way, I’m pretty sure the break room’s still on fire, so if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some
chaos to sew shit to take care of and some better tunes to jam.