The king is dead. Long live the king.
Everybody wants the throne. Everybody wants to be on top, to be the first, the best, the biggest. The will to obtain power, the unscrupulousness whilst fighting for the throne that is deeply embodied in the TV fantasy series »Game Of Thrones« is now being transferred to a colossal musical equivalent, courtesy of the German power metal virtuosos ALMANAC. Raise the curtain for »Kingslayer«, the second album of the band surrounding guitar wizard Victor Smolski - and a murderous journey to the dark times of the regicides.
Let's make one thing clear right from the start: ALMANAC's mighty second strike »Kingslayer« is not about fantasy, it's no fairy tale about slaying dragons and using powerful magic. It is our very own histories coming back at us in the shape of epic, forceful, wonderfully melodic and skillful anthems. Stories of murdered kings, of despots and tyrants, framed by an invincible power metal performance and presented by no less than three (!) lead singers. This is, of course, nothing new for those familiar with the new band of the former RAGE axeman Smolski and his new fellowship. On their stunning debut »Tsar« they already turned to Russian history, thus complementing this musical success by a pleasantly unique background for once not speaking about Vikings, Celts or druids.
The record caused quite a stir back in 2016. "It was indeed the perfect start for ALMANAC!" Victor Smolski recalls fondly. "Our debut has been greeted quite enthusiastically; it has been nominated for a Metal Hammer Award and was presented live at a lot of gigs. There could have been nothing better for the development of our band - especially because the feedback at our concerts was nothing short of amazing." A quick look at the mere figures proves him true: Small club gigs, huge festivals, headliner shows, support slots: More than 50 shows in 10 countries has brought the band close together. "It's as if we tumbled head-on through a crash course about how to become a functioning metal band", Smolski laughs. Not that someone like him wouldn't know already. His characteristic guitar work coined the sound of RAGE for more than 15 years; in the mid-nineties he had already written power metal history with his band MIND ODYSSEY. Since then, he has toured around the globe like there was no tomorrow.
Progression, individuality and avoiding any kind of routine have always been the essence of Smolski- which is why in 2015, he decided to leave RAGE. With ALMANAC, he says, something like this is never going to happen. "Our musical level is way higher", he states without the slightest hint of hubris. "Plus, for us the sheer joy of playing is our top priority. When you have that, routine doesn't stand the smallest chance of becoming monotonous." Fueled by the will to surpass himself over and over again, he wants to write songs with that certain little something. "I don't know of any band that's similar to ALMANAC. There may be projects with several session singers, but not a single one with three lead singers." It's very true. Add to that the fact that the vocalists are far from being a marketing tool, but the unmistakable figurehead of a metal band being thus able to tell better stories than anybody else. Andy B. Franck's (BRAINSTORM) soaring heavy metal voice, the roaring rock voice of David Readman (PINK CREAM 69) and the mesmerising siren chant of Jeannette Marchewka (LINGUA MORTIS ORCHESTRA) turn every single song into a legend at the campfire. "These voices enable me to paint in all the musical colours available", the guitarist rejoices. "There's simply nothing I can't do with these fantastic musicians."
And he really knows how to use these possibilities, too. Drama and monumental grandeur come together in a dark power metal landscape full of huge melodies and medieval choirs. Plus, it's a lot heavier that the first one. "We quickly realised that we're way heavier on stage than on our album… We wanted to sound heavier, more direct, with even sharper melodies and more dynamics." This they did in the Wuppertal based HeyDay Studios, not particularly a well-known name in metal circles. Or not yet, as Smolski sees it. "I am more than happy to have found this little gem of a studio! There are few places around that offer so much: Wonderful analogue equipment, but also the full armory of digital wizardry." Recorded from April 2017, »Kingslayer« was mixed live at the mixing desk. "Andreas Herr is a capital sound engineer. It's unbelievable what he made of our songs."
This, indeed, is a compliment that can be expanded to cover the whole team. Musically, vocally and in regard to its content, »Kingslayer« reaches dizzying levels and comes with divine guitar work and untamed passion. The act of coming free from RAGE resulted in a band with big ambition. That's again mirrored in the unusual contents of the album. The symphonic mid-tempo smasher 'Hail To The King', for example, is about king Dhatusena of Sri Lanka. "In 473, his own son dethroned and immured him," Smolski is inaugurating the merry history lesson. Equally dark is the background of 'Regicide', telling of the assassination of King Henry VIII by a monk. What else? Schizophrenic kings being driven to suicide by one of their courtiers or an infamous pirate queen no one could kill. It should be clear by now: Against an album like »Kingslayer« even »Game of Thrones« doesn't stand a chance. These true stories are more gripping, more legendary... and of course a lot bloodier!