Return To The Kingdom Of Fife
Review by Brexaul on June 14, 2023.
It has now been almost three years since Gloryhammer fired Thomas Winkler and those embarrassing chats suddenly surfaced (wow what a weird coincidence!), and most of us were curious how the band could make a comeback after losing a major ingredient of their sound. Like it or not, Winkler’s charismatic voice (well, studio voice if you wanna be precise) was a major selling point and injected a lot of character to those ridiculous lyrics, which for me, made everything work. The fourth offering of Gloryhammer, finds them in the most Turillliesque shape of their career so far, and while a large chunk of that character is indeed gone, the band managed to even out the playing field by brushing up their songwriting skills.
Return To The Kingdom Of Fife is fortunately a very solid offering of songs and it’s a fun listen, which is a huge relief for me, after the really underwhelming introduction to the new guy that took the mantle of Angus. When I heard the first recording with Sozos, I was very disappointed. Like, extremely. I understand it was an introductory song, and a marketing ploy to fill the gap before the full album was recorded, but 'Fly Away' felt like such a steaming pile of mediocrity, that I practically lost interest in the band altogether. Terrible songwriting aside, his voice was so sugary that it felt like it was missing the point of the whole pompous, over the top persona of what Angus is supposed to be and sound like. So, was this rectified in Return To The Kingdom Of Fife?
Well, no. Let’s be honest here, if you’re looking for any kind of aggression or grit in your vocals, then Sozos will never be your man. On the other hand, seeing the guy up close, hitting every note live (and comparing him to my previous Gloryhammer concert experiences with Thomas awkwardly shouting off key and enunciating every vowel as an A) it is clear he is a MUCH better singer than Thomas has ever been. With that in mind, let’s go over the album.
I read some posts from Chris Bowes right before the first album-single hit, that claimed that the new material was quite different, much more complex than anything they have ever done before and a callback to the “golden age of power metal”. This is absolute bullshit. Sure, the songs sound a bit more demanding than some of their brain dead three-chord outputs (which were still a ton of fun, that’s not the point here), but claiming this is technical is a joke. The guitars still barely have anything that could be characterized as a riff, and they are mostly there to accompany the much more dominant keys.
On the other hand, everything is extremely well performed and mixed together, and the songwriting is clever and filled with little callbacks to earlier great songs from their back catalog. We have the full scope of fast paced Rhapsody (back when they were good), to dance along anthems and the usual Chris Bowes Bal-Sagothish narrations, all written and performed with the standard Gloryhammer light-hearted, symphonic power metal (that, let’s be honest, they kinda pioneered). There is a unique catchiness to their songwriting and the infectious lines of 'Keeper Of The Celestial Flame Of Abernethy' are a good testament to that, but honestly most of the songs offer at least a cool chorus for you to whistle while doing menial jobs. If catchiness is your gig, then they undeniably can deliver. Even Sozos’ sometimes wimpy tone bodes well with the more pop-ish vocal lines and creates some interesting mixture. For all the shit I’m giving him in this review, I really think he deserves an acknowledgement of how well he performs here.
The concept is as silly as anyone would expect, and if you’ve been following the story of the past albums, pick right where the Angus saga ended. It’s again very well-written, with bits of over-the-top silly humor that they are known for, utilizing the narrators to further develop it, but seamlessly woven into the flow so they never become too distracting. Special mention to the grand epic closer (which I won’t even try to act like I remember the name) that follows the tradition of a lengthy banger on all their previous albums which is just stellar. Everything works so well here, a real highlight with multiple shifts in speed, twists and turns on the narrative and a great performance from everyone.
So, wrapping everything up, anyone who didn’t like the previous Gloryhammer albums will have one more arrow in their quiver as this is no way of breaking any new ground. Some songs are obviously better than others and there are parts that remain forgettable even after a considerable amount of spins, but rating this album heavily depends on your (well, my) point of view. If you want to treat it like the second coming of the golden age of power metal, then sorry, no dice. If you want to lose all the self-inflating nonsense though and treat it like the fourth album of a band with an already tried and tested style and formula, then it’s a winning bet. A very solid album that will 99% please the long time fans of the band and a very good step in the right direction after the huge shitstorm that hit the band a couple of years ago.
Rating: 8.3 out of 10533