I reviewed Rotting Kingdom’s three track EP back in early 2018 (remember those relatively sane times, readers?), giving it a hefty 8/10, and wanting to hear more. Well, with just a couple of years in the old time-bank, the Kentuckian five man crew are back with this, their debut album. Can they make the effective leap from plucky producers of EP to fully blown album-producing artistes? We shall see.
Their EP really had roots in doom / death, and I think it fair to say that Rotting Kingdom have made some musical strides since then. Opener “Sculpted into Life by the Hand of Death” is a sprawling, progressive number. While it is true to say that for the most part the tempo is on the doomier side of the house, there’s plenty of really interesting guitar and rhythm section work that lifts this from being yet another cookie-cutter doom / death crew. In fact, I’d say that the closest touchpoints for this band are acts like the creative miserabilism of slow death cult act Runemagick, the fuzzed out doom tones of Khemmis and effective splashes of early (death metal) Amorphis. Frankly, if this doesn’t have you salivating at the thought, you’re probably reading the wrong website.
“Barren Harvest” lurches out of the speakers next, with a delightfully unbalanced time signature and Anton Escobar’s subterranean hoarse bellow. Kyle Keener and Clay Rice’s guitar work is just fantastic; whether wrangling huge, epic slabs of riffs that seem to pass by with the speed and grace of monolithic icebergs, or with intricate melodies that mournfully dance through the air alongside. Chuck McIntyre’s bass meshes perfectly with some fantastic drumming by skin-basher Brandon Glancy.
“Absolute Ruin” is, for all extents and purposes a full on raging death metal track. This wouldn’t sound out of place on any of the modern Bloodbath albums, and when that chug comes in during the slower mid-sections? Forget about it. This track is a full blown rager. I can only imagine how the crowd would react to this in a live setting; it has the filthiest guitar tone this side of Entrails, and the head-nodding credentials to back it up.
“Decrepit Elegance”is the album’s token instrumental track, all eighties synth splashes and drum machine flourishes. I’m not that taken with it if I’m honest, as it comes across like the background track for Peter Davison era Doctor Who, but to each their own I guess.
“The Antechambers of Eternity” is a really atmospheric leaden be-doomed slog, having a great clean guitar and reverbed guitar refrain that sounds like early 80’s The Cure guesting on an Evoken record, but not surprisingly sounds a lot better than my turgid prose just made it appear.
Closer “A Deeper Shade of Sorrow”, like an extreme metal retelling of classic Maiden track “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”, complete with slow, brooding introduction and burbling bass, is the bookend that this album needs. Once it gets going, it has perhaps more straight ahead metal than any of the other tracks here; one can almost see the bass player putting the foot up on the monitor and leering at the assembled throng – yet when it slows down (and does it ever slow down), the concrete slabs of feedback laden noise are just soooooo heavy they make your body ache.
What Rotting Kingdom have done is effectively reset themselves from the EP, keeping the best of their approach, but putting slightly more death into their death / doom sundae. The energy and inventiveness, mixed with a keen ear for atmosphere means that this is one of the most enjoyable albums I have heard all year. Definitely one to try if you like anything hefty, sulky and heavy.
(9/10 Chris Davison)