“Kings Among Men” is Crimson Shadows’ first release for Napalm Records. While the band has achieved some large milestones in their work already, there is no doubt that this release will be the true stepping stone to building a career out of this music. As a long time fan, this was my most anticipated record in months. Does it live up to the hype? Yes and no. The reason it doesn’t is because, simply put, the band has recorded better songs in their career. Quite a few of their best songs to date show up on this release, but as a whole, it might be the weakest of their four offerings. This is more of a testament to how good their old material was because this album is already amongst my 2014 favourites.
For those new to the band, they play an epic brand of power-infused death metal. The songs are fast, the riffs are furious, and the solos are truly remarkable. On their first EP, it would have been fair to describe them as “Dragonforce with death metal vocals”. Since that time, the band has slowly started to add clean vocals, courtesy of guitarist Greg Rounding. His singing has improved tremendously over time, and it’s at its best on “Kings Among Men”. Really though, this is the best performance from nearly every member. Primary vocalist Jimi Maltais sounds better than ever, and his range is truly amazing. He can hit the lowest of gutturals up to the highest of screams. Whether it is death metal or black metal styled vocals, his voice is an immediately recognizable presence on the album.
Another area of improvement is the bass playing. While there have been some sections on prior Crimson Shadows releases where the bass playing is noticeable, it was largely absent. Bassist Morgan Rider is not only easy to hear on this release, but he makes his presence known through several bass solos (the one on “Moonlit Skies and Bloody Tides” is the highlight though), as well as through his playing underneath the guitar solos. It cannot be overstated the value he has added to the band since joining. His companion in the rhythm section, Cory Hofing, is beyond remarkable. He’s an absolute rhythm machine. There is no shortage of fills, double bass, or blast beats in his drumming. All of this is done at ridiculous tempos too. He is easily among the most consistent and intense drummers in all of extreme metal.
This brings us to the final, and possibly most important element to the bands sound: the guitars. Sharing lead guitar duties alongside Rounding is Ryan Hofing. Both guitarists deliver an onslaught of technically dazzling solos. Compared to the average band, the sheer amount of time the band spends soloing may seem like overkill, but they actually used to do even more soloing in the past. Nearly every song in the band’s back catalogue prior to the last EP exceeded 6 minutes, and they were all filled with even longer guitar solos. While this more succinct approach is likely appreciated by many, I had no issues with 3-4 minute sections with just guitar solos. Nevertheless, they still do an impressive job here.
The three songs from the aforementioned EP all make an appearance here. While there are some slight differences, “Maiden’s Call” remains relatively similar. By contrast, “Freedom and Salvation” has been sped up considerably. In the history of thrash, death, and black metal, there are few examples where making a song faster has led to it being worse. This is even more obvious here as the newer, speedier version of this song is even better than the original. Maltais’ spits out words with incredible speed, doing his best to match the mind-blowing pulse of the rhythm section underneath. The final track on the album, “Moonlit Skies and Bloody Tides”, is also a re-recording. The primary difference here is the addition of a minute-long synth outro. Another change is that the gang vocals in the chorus have been changed so that Maltais’ is doing multiple layers of harsh vocals instead of the rest of the band. Despite these two changes, the 10-minute opus is largely the same, and yet, it somehow feels much better than the already great original. A lot of bands feel the need to put a longer song last, even if they can’t justify writing something so lengthy, but Crimson Shadows truly saved their most epic moments for the finale of the record.
Aside from an intro and an interlude, there are 5 new tracks here. “Braving The Storm” is the highlight of these 5, primarily because it features the best clean vocal melodies from Rounding, as well as some of the more memorable parts of the album. “A Gathering of Kings” and “Dawn of Vengeance” are also impactful, largely for the same reasons. It is actually the two opening songs that were most surprising. They are by no means weak songs, but in the context of the album, they are both unexpected choices to kick things off with compared to, say, a re-invigorated “Freedom and Salvation”. The most puzzling bit of the song selection is that the band has an un-recorded song in their arsenal that is among their best work: “Ruler of Mankind” (for those interested, there’s a video of them playing the song live on YouTube; there also used to be a recorded version on MySpace that never appeared on a release). Nevertheless, this is somewhat of an unfair criticism, largely because what the band provides on “Kings Among Men” is more than satisfactory.
In the end, “Kings Among Men” is an album that is going to make waves in the metal scene. There are a lot of interesting extreme metal hybrids out there today, but none more potent than Crimson Shadows. The band delivers absolutely everything one could want in a metal release: crushing riffs, spectacular melodic leads, and a mix of both insanely brutal vocals and cleaner singing. These elements are all bundled together in one epic package of glory-filled metal. “Kings Among Men” is among the most essential records of 2014, so you don’t want to put off hearing this album!
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“A Gathering of Kings”
“Braving The Storm”
“Freedom and Salvation”
“Moonlit Skies and Bloody Tides”
4.75/5 or 95%.