Groan invite reviewers, in a note attached with the promo of this album, to enjoy their “silly album” (their term, not mine, though we’ll come back to this in a second) with a beer in one hand and a spliff in the other. Fair enough. Alas, it’s a foggy Monday morning in Dublin right now so the best I can muster here is a cup of coffee and a flapjack, so unfortunately the band will just have to sell me on their tunes alone.
So when the opening duo of the brief “Weeping Jesus” into the stomping “Sacrificial Virgins” kicks things off on sound footing, it’s a relief. Chemical assistance will not be necessary after all. We’re in solid, Witchfinder General and Motorhead loving hands here, as the latter track nicely contrasts some serpentine, moody riffing with a burst of rapid fire at the end. And the only real “silliness” at work here is in the slightly over the top nature of the lyrics. Or so it seems until the next track “Magic Man” opens with a speech about the motivational power of rock – whereby vocalist namedrops how we all need to listen to “the Halen, The Quo” and the like in a bizarre, slightly cringey vaguely American accent. Rather than a call to arms, it kind of sounds like an outtake from the “Bad News” movie to be honest, but luckily the song itself proceeds like some kind bizarre offspring of Trouble and WASP that makes it easy to forget.
“Dissolution” is the stand out track. All choral moaning and gloom at the start moves between that and a strident, headbang inducing pace before dropping unexpectedly into a pit of utter doom for the closing section. It’s unexpected but it works perfectly. The lyrics tell of our impending end here and the mournful way in which the song ends is a deft touch in illustrating their point. It’s moments like this where it’s clear there’s clearly something special at work here when they put their minds to it. They take us to similar lyrical terrain in a more grooving fashion on “Atomic Prophets”. And unfortunately around this point, they also run out of steam a little for the last section of the album.
“Gods of Fire”, “Black Death” and much of the title track seem like re-treads of what they’ve done in the first half, and all seem to be in the same tempo. And the brief interlude “Let’s Have A Pint At the Crooked Cock” is pretty much a waste of space that contributes nothing to the album bar possibly an excuse for a jokey song title to appear on the sleeve (there’s that “silliness” they warned us about again). However, “How Black Was Our Sabbath” salvages things though, another heads down rocker that sits alongside “Dissolution” as a highlight.
If Groan have one thing against them however, it isn’t the music, or the songwriting – it’s the conundrum that arises with Mezz’s vocals, which I guess are very much an acquired taste. On one hand, he’s clearly full of passion and enthusiasm, and his uncontrived if slightly down to earth approach, both delivery and lyric wise is endearing to a degree. What counteracts that though is the actual tone of his voice is way too shrill for the music: it seems at times as if he’s singing in a register that’s too high for him, and resulting he often sounds a little sharp. As a result, his vocals seem forced, and occasionally out of tune. For a song or two it’s fine, but as the album goes on it really starts to grate, and by the time we get to “Gods of Fire” it’s distracting to the point where it starts to impede on my enjoyment of the record.
That aside though “The Divine Right of Kings” is a confident enough album for the most part with some solid songwriting chops at work,and enough tasty riffs and variety for the first three quarters or so to keep fans of classic doom inflected Sabbath-esque heavy metal entertained. They might just be selling themselves short with their self-imposed party band trappings, because there’s some genuine fire and a knack for a decent riff that renders them a lot less throwaway than many others of their ilk.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes