Rest in hazy, gloomy peace, The Wounded Kings. Born some twelve years ago in Devon, a picturesque but often desolate county in southwest England, the band’s similarly contrasting existence came to an abrupt yet peaceful end on August 12th, 2016. A picture of a tombstone, a few words on Facebook, and we we’re left robbed of an illustrious specimen of progressive, psychedelic doom metal, condemned to finding solace in the five praiseworthy full-lengths and several smaller releases they recorded. “Your passing is not what we mourn. But the world you left behind.”
It’s a fitting line by Nick Cave that had attached itself to my mind’s abstraction of Visions in Bone even before hearing about The Wounded Kings’ disbandment. Indeed, there’s much of Cave’s dark, forlorn aesthetic sewn into their mournful but propulsive music. These facets emerge early on, in the form of subtle piano and organ touches during opener “Beast,” an undulating tune that slips in and out of bluesy sections, hard, meaty riffs, and thumping piano chords. An intriguing song for the entirety of its fourteen minutes that reveals all that we’re losing in the form of The Wounded Kings. From the exquisitely nuanced changes in dynamics; drones, grooves, and fuzzy riffs that linger just long enough; the idiosyncratic, almost improvised accents woven around the pleasant, progressive guitar solos and leads to returnee George Birch’s rough yet ethereal effect-laden vocals that heighten the feel of mescaline-induced psychedelia, rumbling and rambling occult phrases.
While the rest of the record never quite reaches the refined medley of moods presented on “Beast,” Visions in Bone continuously demonstrates the quartet’s propensity for merging disparate influences and imprints them into a coherent, appeasing collage. One will identify a smidgen of Cathedral in “Vultures,” the usual Tony Iommi doom riffing will become especially obvious in some of Steve Mill and George Birch’s riffs on the crushing “Kingdom”, and it’s easy to imagine the psyching out on “Vanishing Sea” to be part of a Pink Floyd album. But these elements remain just gentle reminders of a permeating, inescapable familiarity surrounded by genuinely engaging, inspired songwriting. And among these long, well-narrated tunes, each a world by and in itself, there’s a lone banger, the slow crush of “Bleeding Sky” that betrays an unexpected but welcome simplicity.
In hindsight, the band’s usual themes of death, despair, and horror take upon a new layer of meaning and unconsciously projected metaphor. Visions in Bone thus retroactively becomes an unplanned and unwanted swansong showing that we’re quick to assign meaning where there is none. A drift and change is also made obvious in the record’s production and mastering, the musicians taking care of it themselves under the helm of guitarist Steve Mills. This time around, the sound is cleaner and clearer, unhinged of the constraints of fuzzy lo-fi patina that we are so keen to associate with doom metal. And it’s for the better, since this lighter, airier approach makes room for the raw impact of guitars, vocals, Mike Heath’s drums, and Alex Kearney’s bass that speak to the listener unfiltered. All these sounds are lost in a heavy, deserted soundscape, attacking but never destroying, mirroring the intangible symbolism of their notes and lyrics.
Visions in Bone does not carry the burden of frayed relationships or a final effort of a strained and disillusioned band. Instead, it exists as a crown in The Wounded Kings’s discography, showing a mature and comfortable band bridging their various phases. It was made with gusto, no doubt. There’s much to like on this record for doom metal fans, but also for fans of neo-folk, gothic Americana and, possibly, bluesy classic rock. It’s said to best not speak ill of the dead and in the case of The Wounded King, we’ll never have to. This is a band leaving the stage at the top of their game. We can only hope for an encore.
Rating: Very Good!
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Candlelight Records | Spinefarm Records
Websites: woundedkings.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/thewoundedkings
Releases Worldwide: August 26th, 2016