How to best describe this?
Ah, yeah. The band calls it Heroic Fantasy Power Metal, no less. But it indeed feels like the beginning of the Kingdom of Cheese. This is what happens when a Scottish pirate and a Swiss cheese artist come together to form a band.
The debut of the mighty Gloryhammer called Tales from the Kingdom of Fife happens. That’s what!
Reminiscent of Hammerfall in many instances, the album for sure does not break any new ground. But whatever ground they break presents itself with an absolutely stellar enthusiasm and technical prowess that puts other debuting bands to shame. Remember, these are the same guys, who just kicked it up a few notches in 2015 with Space 1992: The Rise of the Chaos Wizards. Almost unbelievable, but they did. And just missed costing me my sanity, too. But here I am lustily attacking the first record of the mighty Hammer of Glory.
Now mind you, in Tales from the Kingdom of Fife the forces of glory are not in space yet, but battling magical powers on the ground in 10th-century Scotland. Stuff about an evil sorcerer invading Dundee with the help of corrupted undead unicorns (Loki help me…) and such. Long story short, the evil sorcerer ends up in a block of liquid ice. The beautiful princess and the unicorns get released from their bonds and everything ends in sweet happiness. [Soft music playing…]
And as its successor, Tales from the Kingdom of Fife demonstrates this disturbing ability to catch you with these melodies that stick to you like superglue. I tell ya, Gloryhammer‘s tunes follow you around your day. And have you chanting about hammers of glory and dragons coming in from Dundee in front of people, who should never hear such things. To the point that they start peeking into your shirt to look for the tattoo that goes with such shenanigans.
But – alas – my magic spells protect me from such mischief.
The move from Scottish pirate chanting beer songs to Zargothrax, Dark Sorcerer of Auchtermuchty is quite a move for Christopher Bowes (Alestorm). Actually, he tortures keyboards when not casting spells on unsuspecting fans. Then in comes Thomas L. Winkler aka Angus McFife, Crown Prince of Dundee, Heir to the Kingdom of Fife.
Correct. Before the mighty Hammer of Glory knocked him flat, this slightly overwhelming 4-octave voice was not known all too well. But for fuck’s sake, my jaw dropped when I heard him for the first time. The power belting out at the audience with not a note astray never ceases to amaze me. And he can do ballads too, by the way, same as pure Power Metal. Having said that, his voice seems somewhat underused in Tales from the Kingdom of Fife. Something that Gloryhammer for sure corrected in the next record.
Now, whilst the songwriting and musical execution of things for sure are with the best up there, the whole production appears a trifle over-compressed. Bass locked in like there is no tomorrow and moving towards oblivion, which is a pity.
To be lauded is Ben Turk on drums, albeit delivering a somewhat repetitive performance with a gazillion of never-ending drumblasts. And again them drums are a tad too present in the overall mix. To the detriment of the keyboards. Thanks to the masters of the knobs, having enthused themselves a bit too much on this side of the Dundee city walls. But more to that later.
Once you have gone beyond the intro, Zargothrax will attack, galloping at you in The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee. Kind of going full speed with the army of corrupted and undead unicorns.
I believe somebody just hit me with a chunk of cheese, dammit.
Then Angus McFife steps into the fray, swearing revenge. Including an uncanny, catchy chorus that leaves you chanting anywhere you should not. For those who think that Quest for the Hammer of Glory was not fast enough (and it isn’t..), you shall be redeemed in Magic Dragon. Complete with Christopher Bowes’ keyboard prowess and one of the rare guitar solos to boot. And again a chorus that your mind will remember for you, make no mistake.
There is actually a ballad in Tales from the Kingdom of Fife. What other thing can you do when the princess is found frozen in ice. Silent Tears of Frozen Princess gets you this story straight. Not the best rock ballad I ever heard, but a good one nonetheless.
But what next?
Well, the record takes on some speed. Amulet of Justice and Hail to Crail are of the same vein – well kind of. But then comes Beaneath Cowdenbeath putting a smile on my face. Finally some stellar guitar and keyboard contribution that I can really get excited about. This one takes the cake, better late than never. But unfortunately only a short instrumental sandwich in between two more monumental tracks.
Now, The Epic Rage of Furious Thunder is not bad, but at the same time exactly what it should not be. Not sure who turned the fucking knobs on that one, but mostly I only hear goddam’ percussion on this track, nothing much else. And that – folks – is a disaster. What’s this? Terrorism by drums? 10+ minutes of beating fans into the dust. Drums taking over, plus some lyrics? Lost in translation, I would call that. Even if Paul Templing lets loose one of his best guitar solo contributions in the whole album.
This is gonna knock stars off the rating. And the finally unthawed princess will not change a thing. Why, why now? The irony of all this is that Ben Turk‘s drum work on that track is actually outstanding, but the mixing and mastering suck big time. Master the hell out of something to move it from stellar to down the drain is a feat you really need to muster first.
But where does this strand us?
Tales from the Kingdom of Fife is a stepping stone. Indeed, it feels like a subdued indicator of great things still to come, and – in truth – they will. And there is a lot of good and bad, yin and yang existing on this record. That they wrecked the last song so badly is a pity.
Now, okay. A lot of the stuff on this record is really well done. So, Tales from the Kingdom of Fife will still get a good rating. And I am mighty glad that the sophomore effort of Gloryhammer has really corrected many of these issues that were visible in this record.
Sometimes knowing the future is a soothing thing. Good job anyway – this is mostly an enjoyable album. Should you own a copy? If you don’t mind cheese-laden fantasy metal of the power kind, absolutely. And even if this is not really up your alley, why not give it a listen?