Like a ruthless assassin pursuing it’s royal folly (it’s a relevant analogy, you’ll see…), Viktor Smolski’s Almanac release “Kingslayer” just one year after 2016’s highly regarded debut “Tsar”. Last year’s album was a good tsarting point (it just had to be done), and this time around the tales of royalty being usurped in varying ways spread their net even further from Russian history to draw inspiration from around the world. This is no Game Of Thrones tribute, these are real stories adapted from historical accounts, arranged and set to music by ultra-talented guitarist/instrumentalist Smolski (ex-Rage/Mind Odyssey).

As fans of his time in Rage will attest to, Smolski likes a challenge, never one to shy away from a good concept, you can expect intelligent musical arrangements matched by intelligent story-lines – “Kingslayer” is of course no exception. As with last year’s debut, Smolski retains the significant vocal talents of David Readman (Pink Cream 69), Andy B. Franck (Brainstorm/Symphorce) and Jeanette Marchewka (Lingua Mortis Orchestra) – he’d be mad not to – and spreads their skills over 10 Symphonic Metal masterpieces linked by the aforementioned royal-toppling themes.

The music takes it’s cue from classic Symphonic Metal, draws on Smolski’s past styles, hints at both Pink Cream 69 and Brainstorm every now again (but then it would, wouldn’t it?) and arrives at something quite unique to Smolski and Almanac collectively. They wind their own take on Symphonic Metal, bending their style around the subject matter and music to marry the two as well as possible. There’s a few different nuances that can be heard throughout the album – for instance, take the least heavy track on offer, the rather gorgeous and heartfelt ‘Last Farewell’, which has undertones of Royal Hunt (rather aptly given the subject matter!), but then if you flick back through the album to tracks like ‘Regicide’ and ‘Hail To The King’, Almanac have combined sonically to present a modern take on classic Savatage! Readman and Franck emulating Stevens and Oliva respectively to a tee and the music backing this with a grandiosity that further proves how ahead of their time and influential Savatage actually were.

Just a couple of examples to whet your appetite, but this just illustrates the bands pedigree rather than highlighting their forward thinking creativity, which goes hand in hand with the past effortlessly. This is an album that should have fans of the genre totally encapsulated. There’s some fabulous guitar-work throughout obviously (I personally particularly like the main riffs to ‘Guilty As Charged’ and ‘Losing My Mind’, showing dexterity, imagination and melody), some fabulous vocal melodies, but they also mix up the feel of the album throughout, throwing in unexpected classic and modern elements when required. Smolski is one of Metal’s big thinkers, never playing it safe, occasionally over-reaching, but usually getting the balance just right – as “Kingslayer” is further testament to.

(8.5/10 Andy Barker)