Another week, another serviceable yet disappointing follow-up from an Australian supergroup…
Emerging from the ashes of Australian grind legends Blood Duster, Fuck I’m Dead and The Day Everything Became Nothing (the latter two aren’t technically split up, but still), King swiftly silenced any skepticism over their change in direction with their debut record Reclaim the Darkness (2016). Not that anyone should have been surprised. Frontman Tony “Tone Bone” Forde made no secret of his growing fondness for black metal during Blood Duster’s later years: the band’s final two releases being the masterful Lyden Nå (2007), whose moniker was intended as “homage to the great Norwegian Black Metal bands from past and present”, and the unplayable 2012 record Kvlt. Psycroptic drummer Dave Haley, likewise, had already honed his black metal chops in both Ruins and The Amenta. What was surprising about King’s debut, however, was that it was melody—of all things—that set them above and apart from their peers. Reclaim the Darkness was a surprisingly somber record, built around a sublime sense of landscape, bolstered by the kind of melodic death metal epicness you might expect from Amon Amarth. It was a potent combination that, while not at all reinventing the wheel, showed the band had a lot more scope to them than their grindcore heritage might suggest.
Coldest of Cold is a different kind of record. The atmospherics and melody have been almost entirely stripped away from King’s sound on their sophomore effort—leaving behind an album noticeably more brutal and punishing, yet also significantly more straight down the line and less distinctive as a result. The staccato riff that opens “Conquer” is the kind of thing more readily expected from Psycroptic, or any other of Haley’s numerous tech-death projects, more than a black metal band. “Mountains Call” has more in common with the debut, but it doesn’t have the same sense of scope and seems to quickly run out of ideas as a result. A lot of the tracks—most of which hover around the four-to-five-minute mark—feel similarly bloated. Wile elongated track length’s lent themselves to Reclaim The Darkness‘s sense of atmosphere, they hinder the more direct approach of Coldest of Cold.
Most of the tracks could do with about a minute or so cut from them. Nearly all of the songs end in the exact same place they began, and it’s been a frequent experience, when listening to this record, for me to have to stop and check that a song hasn’t repeated itself (for whatever reason). This is particularly true of the title-track, which comes to a natural and abrupt conclusion at around two and a half minutes in, at which point an acoustic build up begins out of nowhere, only to give way to the track’s main riff once more before the chorus is repeated for a further minute. It feels neither natural nor climactic, and the same can be said of even the album’s strongest offerings. “One More War” is as good an imitation of latter-day Immortal as you could ask for, although, again, it just sort of ends out of nowhere. Likewise, while “In the Light of the New Sun” and “Beyond the Exosphere” are each built around the kind frantic melodic death metal riffs I wish In Flames were still writing, each track also doesn’t seem to really know what to do with them, with both just sort of petering out before fully taking flight.
As irreverent grindcore icons, Forde and co. were trver than trve. In fully embracing their frostier influences, however, they appear to have become somewhat tepid. Coldest of Cold is built upon a solid foundation, yet what results is neither distinctive nor enticing. In seeking to more closely imitate their heroes the grindcore legends of yore seems to have left large chunk of their identities behind. Coldest of Cold would have perhaps been more effective as the band’s debut: suggesting a strong sense of general aesthetics and room for growth. Neverthelss, while Reclaim the Darkness showed King have it in them to palpably capture the atmosphere of scorching frostbitten tundras, what they’ve served up here is lukewarm at best.
Coldest of Cold is out Nov. 22 on Indie Recordings.