You can tell a great band from how coherent their whole body of work is. The Wounded Kings are a case in point; while they’ve suffered several lineup hiccups over the years – the most surprising being their choice to replace their original frontman George Birch in 2010 with Sharie Neyland, a relatively unknown female singer from a folk background – and gradually left behind their early, low-fi approach, they’ve never lost the thread.
Each new release has had a personality of its own yet has always clearly belonged to a bigger picture. With Vision In Bones that process has been aided even more greatly by the welcome return of Birch after a four-year absence.
At first, The Wounded Kings’ former muddy yet atmospheric sound and 70s horror movie soundtrack feel seems gone for good, replaced by an openly metal vibe. Yet, at nearly 14 minutes – almost a third of the album’s total running time – opening track Beast isn’t only their lengthiest epic yet, it might also be their best; a perfect representation of their new, smouldering sense of dynamics.
At times quite cinematic, it glides nefariously before exploding with a bang, only to return to a quieter yet creepy vibe where lead guitarist Steve Mills channels his inner David Gilmour by pulling out a few surprisingly bluesy solos. It suggests a successful mashup of Black Sabbath with Shine On You Crazy Diamond, but as spacey as that sounds, this is no happy hippie camp. After four full-lengths concerned with spiritual elevation, Visions In Bone deals openly with death and how we deal with its inevitability. And the line in Beast (also reprised in Vanished Sea, which closes the album), ‘Vultures circle your bones’, leaves little doubt about the very few glimpses of hope you’ll find here.
Like a reflection of the overlooked 1999 Candlemass-by-name-only From The 13th Sun album, which also chewed on the classic Sabbath sound only to spit it out in a faithful yet harder fashion, this album is tough and mean. But it’s also the sound of a band successfully shedding their old skin and getting ready to conquer.