The Wounded Kings have returned from the mist soaked gossima moors of the West Country with a new doom opus “In The Chapel Of The Black Hand”. Cast from shadows, the resplendent velvet clad Steve Mills in his Fender haze, has once again emerged from stone circles and eroded henges, having traversed the time worn battlefield of lost brethren, with more than just a revitalised swagger about the ability of his band. For this release is bound to bring a lot of attention as interested parties look to his majesty to see if he has been able to retain his control over his minions, and in particular whether his choice in vocalist has matched or even surpassed the spectral threat from George’s previous vocal endeavour to rule supreme. In short, for band and public alike there seems to be a lot riding on this release. But be assured Mills has good reason to feel confident about this new incarnation for this is not a recording that’s interested in dwelling on the past, instead we find the band emboldened by their accomplishment, marching boldly towards an inevitable destiny for absolute dominion over the international doom scene. For this album presents to the masses the most amazing example of English born and bred doom ever to have been penned.
So what does this album sound like, or perhaps we should pre-empt that question by asking who do the WKs sound like. If you don’t know this band, and shame on you if you don’t, and you are looking for some referential guidance by me making suitable comparisons, then I’m afraid you are going to feel very let down. The reason being that I can’t think of another band I have come across who sound like The Wounded Kings. They have a distinctive groove, or for the purposes of trying to convey the quality, pedigree, and refined style, they formulate riffs and guitar tones that produce a unique vintage doom laden timbre unlike any other band. With the possible exception of many sludge bands who are unable to move beyond the boundaries of Iron Monkey or Eyehategod, there exists a real vitality in the doom scene. Once bands excoriate themselves from wanting to sound like Sabbath they are able to invent for themselves a truly unique style imbibed by an individual sense of purpose. Fortunately the WKs have never sounded like Sabbath and have never coveted their principle influences by re-enacting them through some simple mimicry.
There are of course common threads binding this album with their previous releases, but what we have here is something heavier, darker, and more foreboding. Previous expeditions on their part indicated an attempt to capture this darker more sombre malevolence, quintessential for achieving outright subjugation of the masses, yet it in part continued to elude their grasp. In contrast this album, through its repeated successes across four songs, suggests the previous line up must have been lacking faith in their own conviction, because this time around the kings mean business, this time around they really are taking no prisoners.
“In The Chapel Of The Black Hand” opens its doors to “The Cult of Souls” with a mesmerizing swell of the monolithic chapel-esque tone of a Hammond organ. Yes the “ritual has begun” and as the congregation we are about to receive a sermon that we will never forget. The guitar playing is exceptional as are the drums and bass playing. But what’s the one thing that really makes for this atmospheric transcendental doom? Yes you have guessed, it’s Sharie Nayland’s vocals. She towers above the music, giving an oration that demands absolute submission, for you are expected to congress, yield, desist from resisting her will, and when you have finally succumbed, you are expected to propel yourself into the bellowing chasm opening up before you. Thanks in part to her vocals the music becomes fluid as it ebbs and flows in magnificent cycles of ritualised occult image-scaped splendour. Upon entering the shrouds of this inner circle one finds the choir welcoming your participation in the black mass taking place before your very eyes. Arise magister, arise kings of olde, for this is the necromancer’s world made flesh. Absolutely flawless.
“Gates of Oblivion (i) Descent (ii) Dominion (iii) Arrival” draws us towards the clawing riff of the verse, exceptional in its delivery the sky turns to red, the earth turns to black and the shadows emerge to walk the earth again. Powerful, exotic, this is the haunted England that exists in our imagination. Once again Sharie binds the proceedings with her vocal agility. She quivers with expectation and this is conveyed in such a way that it literally takes my breath away. Solos pour further richness onto the proceedings, accentuating the rhythm sections rooted in groove and doom. The clever and subtle key changes pull you into the grave. There are also quieter more introspective interludes present here, revealing a new side to the kings metal. And from this emerges the next sub-section in the song and for this the guitars become the conduit for making this an anthem about desire. Sensational.
“Return of the Sorcerer” begins with the introduction of a classic WKs style riff, Mills’ dive bombing movement as fingers ascend and descend his six string sword of glory announces the imminent reanimation of the sorcerer. This song has a jamming vibe to it. Nevertheless flawless in their delivery the groove sets the invocation in motion for the sorcerer’s return. Accomplished.
The final part to this epic occult voyage is the title track of the album. Turnkey rhythms course through your body as one finds your surroundings have changed to the dusk tinged surroundings of a cemetery, and there in the shadow stands the chapel. Candles glitter from with in, “something lurks in the shadows”, a malevolence coalesces with the congregation gathered in black. This is the stuff of nightmares, but The Wounded Kings have found Solomons Key, they have obtained control over the netherworld. Devils and demons surge forth, yet the Wounded Kings stand proud and defiant. Commanding their legions the spirits are brought forth and through this endeavour cavort to their majesty’s tune. Dominion is gained. Subjugation is assured.
This album marks a new chapter for the band. It is difficult to compare previous releases with the Black Chapel…for they have evolved beyond everything they could have been with the old line up. This is not so much a re-birth as a sign of absolute defiance. Detractors there may have been, but after this how can anyone question the dedication to detail, fortitude, sheer bloody mindedness to endure, and endure they have, to take their rightful place upon the throne of doom. I for one bow before them in abject servitude as should you, because they are part of a rare breed. Headed by Steve Mills, The Wounded Kings can once again assume regency overall others. Praise be to the Elder Gods, for this is the heaviest, most inspiring, regal, unapologetic, explorative masterpiece to date. Hail the fallen, hail The Wounded Kings! Ignore my advice at your peril, for this is one Excalibur you will want to pluck from the racks as soon as it’s released on Sept 1st by I Hate Records.
Scribed by: Pete Hamilton-Giles