(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
For me, prog-metal is a really funny thing. I've heard some of it that I genuinely love and enjoy. Then I've heard other things that just don't do the job for me at all. I'm sad to say that Royal Hunt's 2008 Magna Carta label release Collision Course falls into the latter category.
Take a look at the band photos in the CD insert: ominously low-lit, shadowy, pictures of five guys who look like they're on their way to a Hell's Angels kegger, all decked out in too-tight denim and leather, several adopting the "too cool for school" sunglasses look, complete with serious mugs and maybe a few pooched out lips. What can you gather from this, never having heard the actual CD?
Well, this is the type of photography that you've probably seen a thousand times where heavy metal bands are involved. This is also the type of thing that is, as the late, great Frank Zappa so delicately pointed out more than three decades ago, worthy of much ridicule.
But the subject matter is quite serious. Collision Course is an admirably done concept album dealing with the current and impending clash of Christian and Muslim civilizations, taking aim at both Christian and Muslim fundamentalism in an effort to shed some light on the ultimately senseless nature of such a conflict. It's a topic which should hit home with a Danish band; after all it was the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which published a series of political cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, in turn setting off a firestorm of violent protest in the Muslim world.
Collision Course is also a typically BIG sounding and bombastic prog-metal album, quite typical of the fare which one might expect from Magna Carta. Something feels all-too-familiar. Dream Theater? Been there, done that. Shadow Gallery? Been there, done that. Symphony X? Been there, done that. Pain Of Salvation? Magellan? Explorer's Club? Been there, done that . . . . . . you get the picture.
Not that Royal Hunt is a carbon copy of any of those bands; they do, of course, have some qualities that set them apart. Keyboardist and principal composer Andre Anderson is the band's leader and naturally his playing is central to the group's sound. He knows what he's doing; a closer listen reveals some subtle touches and genuinely fine playing. It works hand-in-glove with Marcus Jidell's guitars, sculpting the band's overall approach. The two musicians play very well together; for example there is some fine trade-off soloing on "Blood In Blood Out."
I for one would probably enjoy a fully instrumental work from Anderson and/or Jidell. Collision Course is, however, an album saturated in vocals, and that is where the whole affair falls apart for this listener. Mark Boals is certainly a capable singer, in a typically caterwauling, 80s-style hair-metal fashion. Unfortunately, the production values used for Collision Course also recall the 1980s, and Boals' voice has little room to breathe, buried in the hugeness and tinselly sheen of the overall sound. "High Noon At The Battlefield" is one cut that briefly gives the listener a bit of a break from the aural assault, and for a moment it is also the album's most accessible track, before it becomes heavier and stretches out over several minutes.
This time around, I'll give Royal Hunt an "A" for being socio-politically aware, and I'll give them an "A" for effort and execution. At the same time I'll give Collision Course it a "B-" for production, mainly due to the ear-shredding manner in which the vocals are treated. It receives a fair-to-middling "C" for compositions, and unfortunately a "D" for its overall originality.
There is an audience for this kind of thing, so I'm sure that Collision Course will scratch someone's itch. It should, as it is generally a well-conceived and performed work. I'd imagine that Royal Hunt's established fans would be pleased; other listeners should consider the caveats and proceed carefully.