Though it was early a decade ago now, Ares Kingdom still couldn’t have picked a better title for their second album than Incendiary. If one word encapsulated this band’s aesthetic, that word was “incendiary.”
And of course, there are others, like “vicious,” “feral,” and “damned near irresistible.”
I was a latecomer to this particular death/thrash trio, I’ll admit—I jumped on board this ship in time for 2015’s follow-up The Unburiable Dead. In my review of that one, I hailed it as a hair’s breadth better than Incendiary. I must today concede that, as the newness has worn off, perhaps that declaration was just a tad more enthusiasm than studied measurement. Though it is exceptional, built of riffy earworms and rawboned ferocity, The Unburiable Dead actually falls that same hair’s breadth behind Incendiary as Ares Kingdom’s finest hour thusfar.
What little has changed comes in two forms. First, structurally, there’s an intentional movement towards compacting the band’s often deceptively intricate compositions into more potent and primitive packages. Composer and guitarist Chuck Keller adapted these tracks from left-behind demos, and as the writing progressed, he made a conscious decision to bring Ares Kingdom back to darker and more feral planes. This emphasis on the basics of the band’s sound should not be construed as a Black Album-esque “sell-out” shift to more commercial structures. It’s anything but that, really, and instead, it’s more like simple streamlining, a more direct punch to the skull. Those sweet Keller riffs flow strongly through the hearts of killer tracks like “Burn, Antares” and the swaggering ride of “The Bones Of All Men,” both of which are absolute Ares ragers from tip to toe.
The second changes is this: As part of that increased emphasis on ferocity over polish, the production of By The Light Of Their Destruction is an even rawer affair than its immediate predecessors, which isn’t entirely a positive step. The drums are live but lose some of the crisp crackle of previous efforts, and the guitars especially suffer somewhat beneath the added low-mid range frequencies. The rougher production lends By The Light a slightly muffled sound that dulls some of the razor-edges of Keller’s riffing. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but it’s the most noticeable downward step from the prior releases.
Ares Kingdom’s shortest and most direct album, By The Light isn’t their best – that honorific remains attached to Incendiary still – but it’s not far behind, and it’s absolutely a more-than-solid entry into a catalog filled with death/thrash greatness. Forged from pure metal, By The Light is a damned fine offering from a band that has never yet faltered.