Review by Paul Quinton
There was a considerable amount of rejoicing in Royal Hunt fandom when vocalist D.C.Cooper returned to the fold after over a decade away. For all the great work done by his successors, particularly John West, Cooper is widely regarded as the band’s definitive voice, and an excellent comeback album, 2011’s Show Me How To Live, followed by an absolutely majestic set at Firefest in 2012 put the band firmly back in the limelight. Listening to Show Me How To Live, I sometimes got the impression that the album had been influenced by a certain pressure to have some product available as soon as possible after Cooper’s return was announced, so with this line-up now having a couple of years of writing and touring in the tank, it was to be hoped that the band were now ready to move up a gear or two.
One of the first things that struck me about the new album was how structurally similar it is to the previous one. Both have a total length of something over forty minutes, both are comprised of seven songs, and with two lengthier ones bookending five shorter pieces as well as the coincidental reference in the album title, almost making it seem as if it were two halves of a double album, especially as the band seldom depart from their traditional sound. In interviews keyboardist and bandleader Andre Andersen has suggested that each of the band’s albums is different in sound and style, but to the listener, there’s rarely any doubt as to who you’re hearing, and A Life To Die For is very much a Royal Hunt record.
The opening track, the nine-plus minutes long ‘Hell Comes Down From Heaven’, sets the tone from the start, with Andersen’s multi-layered keyboards, garnished with orchestration, matched perfectly to a great guitar riff from Jonas Larssen. The album’s credits lists a four strong string section, but the instruments are so heavily multi-tracked and written around the keyboards, it’s often hard to tell who is playing what. It’s typical Royal Hunt in fine form. Second track ‘A Bullet’s Tale’ varies things somewhat, in introducing the vocals of Michelle Raitzen to complement D.C.Cooper. It’s quite percussive and the orchestration is less prominent, at least at the start, and hints at least at wanting to experiment with the band’s sound, even if the intention is never quite carried through. Then there’s ‘Running Out Of Time’, with one of those riffs you think you’ve been hearing for years, and a real treat for old school Hunt fans, the appearance of former guitarist Jacob Kjaer, who plays a superb solo and brings back fond memories of the band’s tumultuous set at the 2003 Gods Festival. The chorus on this doesn’t quite fit in with the mood of the song but it’s great stuff nonetheless.
The one significant misstep on the album for me is the fifth track, ‘Sign Of Yesterday.’ It’s not the strongest song the band will ever write, but what really takes you aback are Cooper’s vocals, which for this track, he takes on a style more akin to musical theatre, which really jars and affects the whole mood of the song. But equilibrium is restored with the final, title, track, with a blistering solo by Larssen and a lengthy orchestral coda, with which it’s easy to imagine the band ending a show.
Overall, while this may not be a great Royal Hunt album, much less the epic Hunt fans might have been hoping for, it’s certainly a good one. The band are showing some welcome intent to develop the band’s sound, while still retaining their identity. Apart from the puzzling vocal gymnastics on ‘Sign For Yesterday’, it would have been good to hear some heavier guitar to complement the orchestration, but that doesn’t spoil the overall impact of the album, and with the band now twenty years and twelve studio albums into their career, they don’t appear to have lost any momentum or appetite for making their own unique music.
7.5 out of 10
- Hell Comes Down From Heaven
- A Bullets’ Tale
- Running Out Of Tears
- One Minute Left To Live
- Sign Of Yesterday
- Won’t Trust, Won’t Fear, Won’t Beg
- A Life To Die For