The union of fantasy and comedy prevail once again.
Sudden and drastic changes in membership have been the death of many a band, and those who survive such trials often find their status diminished in the eyes of their established fan base, but if power metal is about anything, it’s about standing tall in the face of adversity and carrying the day despite the odds.
Indeed, when it comes to the game of musical chairs that often comes about in this particular metal sub-genre, it has become fairly commonplace for a band’s split to result in two near-equally matched and competing entities, though often they will differ in how they choose to evolve the established sound to which each has contributed. The end of the 2010s, the decade that birthed the iconic and flamboyantly comedic act dubbed Gloryhammer, would ultimately seal their original lineup’s fate following an impressive trilogy of LPs that arguably re-vitalized the symphonic wing of Europe’s power metal scene with the exodus of highly auspicious and charismatic vocalist Thomas Winkler in 2021 under controversial circumstances.
With the subsequent formation of similarly styled and rival project Angus McSix under the command of Winkler and Orden Ogan mastermind Seeb Levermann and several gauntlets being thrown down, a de facto conflict of stardom vs. compositional craftsmanship has emerged with 2023’s “Return To The Kingdom Of Fife”, Gloryhammer’s fourth studio album, being the latter’s impressive counterstrike.
In most respects, keyboardist and band mastermind Christopher Bowes has opted to turn back the clock to where this outfit began in the early 2010s, drawing heavily from the Rhapsody (Of Fire) and Stratovarius-pioneered orthodoxy that originally put the Gloryhammer name on the map as a premier purveyor of what could be dubbed the 3rd wave of power metal. The level of technical intrigue and musicality that has been injected into the obligatory formula of hook-driven anthems has all of the flash and flair of the most ambitious entries of power metal’s ascendant period in the late 90s through early 2000s, but tastefully interpreted in a manner that will be easily digested by today’s trustees of the art form.
But the most pivotal change that has brought the Gloryhammer sound into a more orthodox realm has been the entry of Cyprus-born vocalist Sozos Michael in the role of Angus McFife V, whose polished and smoother approach is reminiscent of Timo Kotipelto with a bit of Hansi Kursch thrown in for the needed impact factor, but stands in stark contrast to Winkler’s biting, jagged-edged snarl which could readily be likened to Ronnie James Dio. But the riff happy delivery of guitarist Paul Templing, his technically charged lead battles with Bowes on several of this album’s banger numbers, and the fast-paced battery provided by bassist James Cartwright and drummer Ben Turk (whom often rivals Alex Holzwarth on here) should definitely be taken into account.
Commencing with a harrowing symphonic overture dubbed “Incoming Transmission” that all but exclusively reminisces upon the darker side of Rhapsody Of Fire’s early days via “Power Of The Dragonflame,” the early 2000s tendencies of this album are all but worn on its proverbial shirtsleeve from start to finish. The gallop-happy cruiser that comes raging forth to truly initiate this explosion of sonic majesty in “Holy Flaming Hammer Of Unholy Cosmic Frost” (self-contradictory mouthfuls as song titles are just one of Bowes’ many comedic tools) underscores this older school tendency, attacking the airwaves with a blend of high octane speed metal bursts, wild Baroque harpsichord and orchestral themes and an overall air of pompous bluster as only symphonic power metal can deliver.
It’s one of those opening entries that could easily fool one into calling it the best of the bunch before the next song is heard, and one that serves to set the tone for the rest of the album, as the shuffling metallic fury of “Imperium Dundaxia” and a synth-heavy, cruiser in “Wasteland Warrior Hoots Patrol” nip on its heels to round out a highly potent opening trifecta. Amid this sea of fantastical melodic splendor is a subtle yet noticeable electronic edge between some quirky robotic vocal asides and synthesizer tones that keep things related to the current trends in power metal, thus preventing one from thinking this album came out in 2003 rather than 2023.
The progression of this album from its frenetic beginnings is an exercise in gradual variation, but the band’s ability to churn out impact-based metallic crushers is tempered with a healthy sense of eclecticism that takes other attributes of the power metal style into account. The more mid-paced and folksy “Brothers Of Crail” checks all the boxes of an engaging, fist-pumping anthem, but places a lot more emphasis on keyboard and vocal texture, with Michael’s lofty voice being brilliantly layered into a sea of choral brilliance that is as harmonically rich as it is tied to the bar room sing-along style that Bowes occasionally imports from his Alestorm handiwork.
The band’s proximity to EDM/pop stylings are on full display on the compact banger with another long name “Keeper Of The Celestial Flame Of Abernethy”, as is their affinity with the simplistic heavy metal sensibilities on the down-tempo number “Sword Lord Of The Goblin Horde”. But at the end of the day, it’s the throwbacks to the fast-paced glory days of yesteryear that continue to carry the day, as noted in flashy beasts like “Fife Eternal” and the shred-infused masterwork “Vorpal Laserblaster Of Pittenweem”. Likewise, those whom like their LP coup de grace entries long and involved, the closing epic colossus “Maleficus Geminus” (not going to bother typing out the mini-paragraph that is the entire title) is so chock full of musical twists and turns that it is sure to stand as Gloryhammer’s closest attempt to rivaling Rhapsody’s insane magnum opus “Gargoyles: Angels Of Darkness”.
Though fans will likely be divided as to whether the four original members of Gloryhammer or Winkler’s auspicious spinoff project carry the legacy of the name to a greater degree, “Return To The Kingdom Of Fife” leaves little doubt that the former holds the edge in the compositional department. The greater emphasis upon mainline heavy metal and modern EDM gimmickry in Winkler’s sound can be equally appreciated by any existing trustee of the Gloryhammer brand, though ultimately Bowes’ version carries the edge as a total package, at least insofar as the current year is concerned. Barring a need for Sozos Michael to gel a bit more with the arrangement, which he has already done to an impressive degree given his radically different approach to fronting Eons Enthroned, Harmonize and Planeswalker, this is an album free of any noteworthy flaws, and the skies above Fife are sure to be the limit in the coming years.
Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: June 9th, 2023
Genre: Power Metal
- Sozos Michael / Vocals
- Paul Templing / Guitars
- Christopher Bowes / Keyboards
- James Cartwright / Bass
- Ben Turk / Drums
“Return to the Kingdom of Fife” Track-list:
- Incoming Transmission
- Holy Flaming Hammer of Unholy Cosmic Frost
- Imperium Dundaxia
- Wasteland Warrior Hoots Patrol
- Brothers of Crail
- Fife Eternal
- Sword Lord of the Goblin Horde
- Vorpal Laserblaster of Pittenweem
- Keeper of the Celestial Flame of Abernethy
- Maleficus Geminus (Colossus Matrix 38B – Ultimate Invocation of the Binary Thaumaturge)
CD 2 contains the orchestral version of “Return to the Kingdom of Fife”.
“Return to the Kingdom of Fife” will be available in the following formats:
- Wooden Deluxe Box (2-CD Digipak, 7” Single for “Fly Away”, Cards + Dice + Flag + Collector’s Card)
- 2LP Gatefold Marbled
- 2LP Gatefold Black
- 2CD Digipak
Order “Return to the Kingdom of Fife” HERE.
Gloryhammer, the U.K.’s kings of fantasy-driven power metal with a highly campy and comedic edge, strike a major blow with a riveting return to early 2010s form in their newest studio release