Royal Hunt, for the benefit of those not familiar with them, are a progressive power band who probably are best known for their vocalist D.C. Cooper having also been a frontrunner to replace Rob Halford in Judas Priest back in the 90’s (this was prior to joining the band in 1994) and for being part of the German power metal band Silent Force for their first four albums (between leaving Royal Hunt in 1998 and rejoining in 2011). Now, this is not to say that keyboardist Andre Anderson isn’t important to the band (he is the only remaining founding member of the band and also has written pretty much all of the band’s music on his own, after all), but, if you have heard of any members of the band, chances are good that D.C. Cooper is likely to be the one you’re familiar with.
For longer time fans of the band, this album has A LOT of pressure on it, as it is following up 2013’s A Life to Die For (which I haven’t personally listened to, but which I’ve heard was very highly regarded) and is their thirteenth studio album as well (hence the admittedly rather clever title, Devil’s Dozen). While Royal Hunt, by most accounts, have never released an outright BAD album (uninspired or unimpressive, maybe, outright bad, no), there’s always a time to ruin a great legacy (Go Set A Watchman, anyone?) and this probably would be the moment most people would expect it to happen.
…Well, if it has, then at least I know I’m going to be in for a treat when I get around to digging through Royal Hunt’s discography properly, because I actually enjoyed this one quite a lot!
One of the things that Royal Hunt have definitely done well is that, despite the vast majority of the songs being longer than 5 minutes (only closing track ‘How Do You Know’ breaks that trend, being just under three and a half minutes long), none of the songs felt like they went on noticeably longer than they should have done. A lot of bands who try to write long songs don’t back up the song lengths with songwriting that is actually varied enough to justify a particularly long run time, but this isn’t the case here: every song felt like it was the length it needed to be and was varied enough that I didn’t feel like the songs needed trimming down. They combine their style with a lot of symphonic elements that arguably pushes the band into neo-classical metal territory, although I would personally invite comparisons to Kamelot’s albums between Siege Perilous and Epica if I had to name a point of reference.
Impressively, the band also does all of this without resorting to the annoying trend of bludgeoning you over the head with the musician’s technical skill, which might seem like a minor thing on paper, but, as someone who usually avoids progressive metal due to so many bands seeming to follow the Dream Theater style of progressive metal (the aforementioned “bludgeoning you over the head with technical skill” style), this actually left me rather impressed because it allowed the songs to shine in their own right as songs while still being technically demanding enough for me to recognise the musician’s skills on their respective instruments. I’m honestly more reminded of Queensryche in terms of how the band showcases their technical skills: it’s subtle enough that you can miss it if you’re not looking for it, but it makes the songs grow on you very quickly when you start to realise what the band are actually doing and give the album the time it needs to sink in.
The performances on the record, as you would expect from a progressive metal act, are fairly impressive on a technical level. I honestly don’t think it’s fair to highlight a single performance over any of the others, because they’re all honestly performances I would recommend, but I think I should really tip my hat to bassist Andreas Passmark, who not only is fairly easy to hear in the album mix (I know it’s weird that I’m celebrating that fact, but I’m used to making jokes that the bass guitar can only be heard in most metal albums if you can hear into infrasound, so the fact it isn’t this time makes me a lot happier than I care to admit!), but even gets a few moments to shine (in particular, the opening of ‘So Right So Wrong’ starts off with a surprisingly good bit of solo bass work). I think my only criticism, surprisingly, is of D.C. Cooper. I mean this with no disrespect to the guy, but I expected a bit more from him on this album than he provided. That said, his performance across the record is still pretty good, so put this one down to my expectations being a bit higher than they should have been.
I also want to give praise to the production of the album. While I do think there are issues with it (some of the symphonic elements are a bit too quiet, although that could easily be my headphones), I think it’s actually pretty good overall. Credit to the folks who produced the album, you all did great jobs!
Overall, I think this is a pretty solid album! I’m not going to go so far as to call it album of the year material, but it’s certainly an album that is easy to recommend to power metal fans and progressive metal fans.
XIII – Devil’s Dozen will be released on the 21st of August by Frontier Records. A promo copy of this album was provided for review purposes.