The Privateer – Kingdom of Exiles Review

I am generally a defender of themed metal. If Viking metal is considered a valid genre, then so should pirate metal.1 It’s just a shame that the latter is spearheaded by a band (which shall remain unnamed) that has gone from a mixture of comedy and epic to full meme-lord.2 It has cost the entire genre in legitimacy, and it now seems as if pirates can be nothing but silly cartoons. The Privateer stages a mutiny on that school of thought, however, aiming for a return to the adventurous and dramatic seafaring tales of yore. Did they dig up treasure or will they walk the plank?

There’s no shortage of ambition to The Privateer. This crew dabbles in various shades of Eluveitie-style folk, pilfers the coffers of NWOBHM and Sabaton-style power metal, and when the seas get rough, the sea-foam spells out ‘Gothenburg’ on the deck. Besides playing the prominent violin, frontwoman Clara Held sings, shouts and growls with abandon, but she’s hardly the only one, as everyone from the captain to the swabby joins in the frequent choirs and harmonies in various configurations, including former frontman Pablo Heist who offers his forceful baritone on quite a few tracks as a session musician. It may sound like a bit of a mess, but the solid songwriting keeps it all remarkably consistent and unleashes flurries of hooks to boot, making for a menagerie of memorable melodies.

It does take a little time to get going, though. The first two proper tracks are fun, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not too remarkable. The real peak of the album begins with “Foretold Story,” a darkly romantic shanty that cherry-picks from gothic metal and sports a strong, entirely choral chorus. The defiant title track heaps it on even further, though, chronicling the end of legalized privateering and the onset of piracy with energetic, galloping riffs and the entire spectrum of vocal styles weaving in and out of the spotlight. Ballad “The Realm of the Forest” can’t entirely escape the sense of obligation, but it’s effective as a maudlin minute ‘round the campfire, and a spot of rest before the excellent “Ghost Light,” a peculiar track whose first half upstages Arch Enemy and whose back half forces the fiddle forward for a sweeping genre shift into blackened folk metal.

How the songwriting keeps the range of vocals and influences from going off the rails is admirable. How it turns this into the album’s biggest strength is even more so. The Privateer may be a name in the singular, this is the album of a whole crew, top to bottom, and from the bobbing and weaving spotlight arises the adventurous sense of rambunctiousness associated with pirates, without ever making it overtly silly or cartoony. This rowdy nature makes small missteps easier to forgive as well, as neither Held nor Heist3 are top of the line, particularly with their cleans, but they make up for it with gruff personality. The production is fairly industry-standard, though, so while it has clarity and the mix is good, a little more personality would have been befitting the otherwise idiosyncratic band.

I may generally defend the concept of themed metal bands, I also know that a lot of them are… not great, oftentimes because of over-reliance on the gimmick. So my expectations were tempered going into Kingdom of Exiles, but I have been pleasantly surprised. Possibly owing to some 15 years of experience, The Privateer has charted a clear course, mixing and matching to their heart’s content, and the crew emerged with the booty of a fun, energetic and adventurous album that, much like the sea, is ever-changing and ever alluring. Not every track is the biggest banger and it’s still a little bit rough around the edges, but then again, what bunch of buccaneers isn’t? YARR!

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Reaper Entertainment
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: January 20th, 2023

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Hear, hear, matey! – Steel
  2. I would argue it is Running Wild that spearheaded and continue to dominate this section of the seven seas. – Steel Again
  3. Such fitting names for pirates!
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