How does one form an individualistic style without betraying the music which you hold dear? This is an eternal dilemma for musicians of all styles, with metal being no different. In truth, there really isn’t a secret recipe for staying “true” while also making a bold statement of originality, but if there was, the rehearsal space of The Wounded Kings would be a wise place to look. These Englishmen manage to merge influences from four decades of doom history without appearing even the slightest bit retro or gimmicky. On The Shadow Over Atlantis, they solidify their own sound by refining and focusing the more unique elements of their excellent debut, 2008’s Embrace of the Narrow House. They also kick ass, a shitload of it.
The Wounded Kings’ music is dominated by three interplaying and well-balanced elements. The first is the droning, minimalistic, and bone-rattling rhythm guitar, which might be loosely pegged as “Sunn Vitus” in its approach. The second is the emotional and unpretentious vocal work of George Birch. His vibrato-drenched croon could be described as Bobby Liebling filtered through a reined-in Messiah Marcolin and the most melodic Jus Oborn possible. In other words, his voice is both unique and instantly pleasing to doom hungry ears (very pleasing, I might add). The third and possibly most signature element is the spaced out, bluesy, and often freeform lead guitar work, which is deftly played by both Birch and second guitarist Steve Mills. The leads shift between compositional parts and improvisations, acting as the main voice when vocals are not present, and giving The Wounded Kings an essential classic rock touch which permeates the whole of the album.
The resulting music shares traits with Saint Vitus, Black Sabbath (duh), the more ambient Electric Wizard moments, Sunn O))), and several other of doom’s greatest pillars, but if you’re just searching for influences you’re missing the point. The Shadow Over Atlantis is a fresh, unique, and incredibly high quality interpretation of Father Doom’s historic tenets. The three aforementioned elements meet and disperse within the album’s four main tracks (each between eight and eleven minutes), with the rhythm guitar acting as a towering monolith against which the vocals and lead guitars must crash and penetrate. Joining at key moments are ambient piano and organ sections (some within two well-placed interludes) and extended lead jams, the latter mostly at each song’s conclusion. Pointing out highlight tracks is futile, as the entirety of The Shadow Over Atlantis is a highlight, but things to look out for would be the chiming lead guitar halfway through “The Sons Of Belial” or the metal-grin-inducing trilled riff which kicks off “Invocation Of The Ancients.” In reality, each listener will find their own high points, and new ones with each return trip.
Extreme credit must also be given to Steve Mills for his job in producing and mixing the album. This is how you give life and mood to doom metal. The extra oomph provided to the rhythm guitar is exactly what creates the image of a towering monolith, and the cavernous echo of the lead guitar and vocals adds to the ghostly qualities of each. The rhythm section, which also deserves credit for a suitably understated performance, is given an ideal balance within the mix.
Despite how much I have dissected the different aspects of The Wounded Kings’ sound, The Shadow Over Atlantis is a very smooth record with amazing flow. It perfectly melds the musical spirit of classic rock with the introspective despair of ’80s doom and the heightened heft discovered since. Heavy stoner fans will get off on the riffs, jam rock fans will delight in the improvised blues hidden in the soloing, and classic doom nuts will be instantly hypnotized by the vocals. But most will just be drawn in by the complete package. The Wounded Kings have a sound and vision all their own, a sound and vision that renders this an essential purchase for doom fans.