International doomsters Thronehammer may have had a start that could have appropriately mimicked the slow crawl of the funeral doom genre, but they have truly been infused with the virulent persistence of the undead that would make Sami Raimi proud in recent years as their non-more-bleak, deathly devastation has picked up an impressive amount of momentum.
Formed in 2012 by (then) Obelyskkh guitarist Stuart ‘Bootsy’ West, it would take until 2018’s Vol.1 – Vampire Bites split with Lord of Solitude to see the first musical offering, but since that watershed moment, the band have steadily released increasingly impressive material roughly every two years starting with their anvil heavy Usurper Of The Oaken Throne debut in 2019 and followed by the noticeable step up in quality on Incantation Rites in 2021.
Right on time, the band are back with their third full-length slab of granite hard and heavy doom metal, the nine-track Kingslayer which the band have promised to be their most versatile material to date, looking to infuse their traditional metal leanings with the twists and turns offered on their previous outing along with more metallic savagery.
The appropriately classic thrash-sounding melodic intro to Reign Of Steel is ushered in by West as he dances on the fretboard with aplomb and the building drums whip up the rising atmosphere before the band explodes into the kind of full-on, bombastic stomp that Grand Magus perfected on Iron Will. When ‘Doom Commando’ Kat Shevil Gillham overlays this massive platform with the gruff tale of battle anthems, it is immediately striking how much Thronehammer have tightened up their sound, even from the progression of their second album.
The production, mastered by Patrick Engel (Temple Of Disharmony) sounds absolutely massive and rings with beautiful clarity that is far more doom-flavoured traditional metal than the other way around, and you barely notice that the opener tops the seven-minute mark.
The title track opens with a histrionic scream before showcasing a sound that is further influenced by the likes of Slayer and Bolt Thrower but retains that blues-rich heritage Thronehammer have built their reputation on. Under the grinding riffs and pounding drums of Markus Ströhlein, remain the band’s glorious sensibilities that combine old-school metal influences with a modern flourish making them seem fresh.
And despite Kingslayer‘s impressive seventy-four-minute runtime, it avoids becoming a dirge and once again, Kat’s voice is imperious, commanding with authority as the subtle inflexion shifts add a snarling ferocity to the deep-throated melody.
If you are a fan of metal, doom and Thronehammer then rejoice, because this, without a shadow of a doubt, is their best album to date…
Sacrosanct Grounds bring the pace down as they start the first of three longer tracks and has a feel of Judas Priest meets Celtic Frost in the swirling atmosphere. Evolving into a slow, powerful march that is a smouldering emotional vehicle for the sad yet thoughtful vocals that mutate into a dark growl as they slowly start to turn the screw. After the intricate melodies of the middle section, the heaviness returns with a pummelling end that does not undo the atmosphere they have been building, making the near eleven minutes a thing of epic, epic beauty.
The second of these tracks, Echoes Of Forgotten Battles, crunches from the outset with the raw growling underpinned by monstrous, battering riffing from West and fellow guitarist Tim Hammersmith. This twin attack has nods to the likes of My Dying Bride and Candlemass, but with that driving chug it would also sit with Icon/Draconian Times era Paradise Lost. Almost two songs in one like the former, it’s separated by a mid-track breakdown although it’s the more beastly of the pairing despite the lush lead guitar giving some respite.
Shieldbreaker is suitably triumphant and that latter-era Maiden-like harmony that came to the fore on their previous album is once again on display. The sweeping multi-layered vocals also make a return with a positive, hearty battle cry contrasting the savagery of the following track, Mortal Spheres, which balances their expansive doom sound with a blackened, deathly edge as Kat’s strangled rasps trade with cavernous bellows over thunderous drumming.
Triumphant Emperor continues this guttural stamp, coming across like the victory celebration of a tyrant as the snarling vocals are spat with venom and the rhythm section shakes the ground in this mid-paced march. Stylistically, this is a simpler composition than the previous tracks and the bludgeoning riffing smashes with imperious, unrelenting power that dispenses with some of the elegant flourishes until just before the end where it becomes a mournful funeral lament.
The appropriately titled Halcyon Days Of Yore is another slab of muscular traditional doom that highlights the tautness of the interplay between Ströhlein and Uwe Void on bass as once the military-style tattoo of the opening becomes a pulsing, head-banging anthem. The longest and final track, Ascension, sees the band pulling out new tricks with Kat’s multi-faceted vocals coming to the fore working different styles to wring genuine emotion from the churning cacophony.
On their last outing, I felt that there was a track or two that let the overall album down despite Thronehammer’s quest to push themselves, which may have been a result of them trying to stretch the music into more epic territories (Incantation Rites beats this album by a minute despite being two tracks shorter). However, Kingslayer suffers from none of that, and the quality never dips below the high bar they have set themselves as every single number maintains a consistency and, more importantly, enjoyability that makes the overall end product an absolute delight from start to finish.
If you are a fan of metal, doom and Thronehammer then rejoice, because this, without a shadow of a doubt, is their best album to date.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden