Screamer – Kingmaker Review

Screamer doesn’t shout in the face of tradition—they never have and, predictably so, never will. Yes, here in this brand new year of 2023, young(ish) names chase the 40-year (or more) legacy of established icons like Rainbow, Van Halen, and Judas Priest, and there’s nothing wrong with that as many such surviving progenitors have trouble playing after bingo hours these days.1 Instead, the Swedish troupe continues along with the Axel Rudi Pells and Primal Fears of the world, greasing the still cranking gears that imbue power chords with a touch of muscle to float the rock-o-meter just above the Mendoza line.2 With an energetic gallop, riff after riff, lick after lick, Screamer, now five albums deep on this well-worn path, cobbles a few more steps along their road-ready set with this latest Kingmaker. But are they making kings through valiant conception, or are they simply just another heavy metal fluffer?

Sadly, this newest outing, while not entirely worse than previous ones, misses being solid by just a few swings. Something has changed since Highway of Heroes, and it’s more than just the departure of longtime member of the Screamersߵs twin-lead strike team, Anton Fingal. Kingmaker leans into a bass-flattened, synth-charmed style of heavy metal that, while not always toothless—see last year’s Dreamkiller from Sumerlands for a modern outing done right in that vein—can rob a band of their normal pulse. This popped clutch of a shift feels especially stuttering when the successes of past outings rest on the impact of an early Maiden punkiness. Of course, we’re well past the synthsplorations of the mid-80s, so Screamer is free to be whatever era they want to be—who doesn’t like a little Whitesnake?

Despite time being what it is, heavy metal should be a little wild—that hasn’t changed. Alas, Screamer simmers over 40 minutes, a slow-cooked effort to bring life to stale riffs and budget leads. With a majority of songs calculated to end before the four-minute mark, efficiently after a bridge and chorus reprise, Screamer, at least, rocks through in an inoffensive manner. Cuts like “Rise Above” and “Fall of a Common Man” make the briefest of detours from low-rent verses to title-filled choruses to sputters of melodic flair, not even the faintest of attempt at an ear-splitting guitar assault. Now, I know songs don’t always need rippin’ solos, but when Screamer does choose to let their chops run wild—check the scorching whammy wails of “The Traveler”—it’s hard to ignore the impact of that extra effort.

The truth is, Screamer should get in my face, but with a flatter sound, Kingmaker feels like a band on cruise control. It’s no surprise to hear that Kingmaker pushes primarily a crunchy guitar attack forward, but all too often this dominating sound bowls over the gentle piping of a more interesting organ line in the background (“Kingmaker,” “Ashes and Fire”). The most uptempo songs continue to borrow a NWoBHM drive, but where Screamer before has let a Harris-leaning bass cut and thump, the heavy plunks feel oddly hollow (“Hellfire,” “Burn It Down”). Not a single song on Kingmaker hits me as bad, but after ten romps through the same highs and lows, I start to question why more placid tracks, particularly the closing duo of “Sounds of the Night” and “Renegade” need to be around at all.

To put it simply, Screamer has made better albums—their guitars have scraped harder, their bass has clacked with more fury, their drums have crashed with greater clamor. Neither aiming for narrative nor drama, Kingmaker always needed to stand high atop riff mountain with power, but Screamer couldn’t make that climb here. After the bescumbering of mediocre releases that the end of a review season typically brings, the hope for a new year is that an early gem unearths itself. While I’ve no doubt that I could crack open a cold one and have a good time with the Screamer boys, they barely brought their ‘C’ game this time, and that’s a damn shame.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: SPV/Steamhammer
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: January 13th, 2023

Show 2 footnotes

  1. RIP EVH, wow, already over two years?!
  2. A baseball metric to help determine whether a player is valuable in a lineup. Now you know!
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