Almanac - Kingslayer - (8.5/10)
Published on December 13, 2017
Victor Smolski’s time with power metallers Rage exposed the world to his furious and quirky style of guitar mastery. After his departure from the German act, he moved on to greener pastures, leaving Peavy and co. to flounder in mediocrity. Said greener pastures came in the shape of the internationally constructed Almanac. Featuring members from across Europe, three lead vocalists, a symphonic sparkle, and Smolki’s trademark guitar work, their first effort Tsar was a phenomenal album which worked on multiple levels. Only the following year, the group return with their sophomore record Kingslayer, another solid release which may not be as explosively gripping as the debut, but satisfyingly reiterates every foundation characteristic laid down by the band in 2016.
Labelling Almanac as ‘symphonic power metal’ may be a stretch, but it’s near as dammit. The orchestral pomp is present, though only in short bursts to back up the power of the guitar. Tsar featured the Orquestra Barcelona Filharmonia, whereas Kingslayer’s instrumentation is entirely keyboard-based – which might explain the heavier emphasis on the ‘metal’ aspect of the album. However, what the album lacks in orchestral flair it makes up with a beefier bass sound that is constantly audible. Tim Rashid clicks away underneath Smolski’s massive riffs, feeling every bit a part of the action. I would only query the necessity of three vocalists. When I reviewed Tsar I mentioned that, aside from Jeannette Marchewka (who isn’t used nearly enough), the two men are very similar in tone, and are backed up by a choir at the important points anyway. Whoever performs the harsh vocals in single “Losing My Mind” deserves praise for both competent execution and for adding that extra dimension which I look for in every power metal act.
Smolksi’s guitar has been de-tuned significantly, and provides an interesting counterpoint to some of the more flowery melodies. This is no more exemplary than in the grinding opener “Regicide”. After the brief, menacing introduction, the sheer razor-like quality of the main riff made me raise my eyebrows and bang my head in equal measure. Despite being a great opening track, it isn’t full of the grandiose splendour Almanac are capable of, and would’ve been better set further back on the tracklist. The speedier numbers like “Children Of The Sacred Path” and especially the fiery “Kingdom Of The Blind” are really where Kingslayer shines. Bullish riffs pound at your ears while bombastic symphonics shimmer overhead. The latter also contains the catchiest chorus on the album, almost rivalled by the bouncy closer “Red Flag”. All these tracks are based on obscure stories from regal history which will intrigue any antiquity geek, and fit the Almanac style so well. The story of “Red Flag” in particular blew my mind.
Structurally, the record is well planned. The midway title-track acts as an instrumental interlude, but contains a symphonic theme which is echoed in the following track. The balladic (and regrettably forgettable) “Last Farewell” is placed tactically near the climax of the album, leaving room for “Red Flag” to melt your face. Also, the one-two punch of “Guilty As Charged” and “Hail To The King” give the listener a quickfire hit of fist-pumpingly fast and heavy, and fist-pumpingly slow and heavy. Gang-shouts littered throughout the LP increase the sing-along fun factor to high levels, and Smolski chucks in as many quirky riffs here and there as he possibly can – although it still feels slightly lacking in that department when compared to Tsar. Kingslayer is a great example of the tricky second-album trial being overcome, but not completely smashed. I’m impressed Almanac got another great release out in such a short space of time, and is more than worth your attention. Hail to the king!