Taking the instrumental route in the Heavy Metal style can be risky business as it is a realm saturated with the most formidable of showmen. Generally the ones that make waves are the ones that either go for an all out eclectic approach where just about everything inside and outside of normal Metal parameters gets thrown at the listener, technique rules over melody, or a mixed approach including some songs with lyrics comes into play (think YNGWIE MALMSTEEN’S first album). AJH takes a rather interesting and different approach and essentially crafts their works after a standard song format, minus the vocals, and while very predictable, also proves to be quite effective.
The general feel of “Stone King” is one of a middle ground between a sense of regal pomp and a stomping groove in more of a mainline 80s approach. It centers on the skill and intrigue of lead guitar work most of the time, but makes plenty of occasions for its thunderous rhythm section and a dense overlay of keyboard sounds. Definite echoes of MALMSTEEN and STUMP can be heard here, but in a much less flamboyant manner, and instead bringing more of a STORMWIND or SABATON feel things, though again, without the lyrics. It has a massive feel to it and a clear, crisp production job, and exudes a sense of a singular colossus standing amid a ruined city (which is what the album art depicts).
For all intents and purposes, this is an album that is actually a fairly quick listen, and pretty much dwells on a limited set of ideas. Things don’t wander too far beyond mid-tempo land, and the divide between the shredding leads and the riffs is about as clearly drawn as on the average album featuring Magnus Karlsson blazing up the fret board. “Judgment Of Solomon” and “Reborn” have a few nice rhythmic switches around work reminiscent of ADAGIO at times, but largely this is a simplistic coaster that utilizes the riffs in a percussive manner. “Fly With Me” and “Broken Glass” kick things up slightly in the tempo department, but nowhere near anything resembling the speed metal craze that engulfs most of Finland’s Power Metal acts.
Lopsided albums like this are definitely geared towards a very specific and limited niche within the broader metal world, but this one is probably among the more accessible albums for those who are not guitar players or otherwise titled towards artists such as MICHAEL ANGELO BATIO or MARTY FRIEDMAN. A good rule of thumb for anyone looking to approach a one-time buy of an Instrumental Metal album along the lines of “Stone King” (though as of yet it is only available for free listening on the band’s site), is to imagine an ALLEN LANDE album without the two namesakes being present.
(Online May 31, 2012)