Review by Paul Castles
Exactly a year to the day since their last appearance at the Asylum, Dartmoor’s doom demons The Wounded Kings were back in town.
With an exceptional new album to promote, their return to Birmingham was eagerly anticipated by those who prefer their medicine encased in a heavy coating of mist, misery and menace. It was a three band bill but a commitment to interview the Kings meant I missed opening act Ki, apologies.
I did catch General for the first time, and like most of those gathered at the Asylum 2, it was an experience that proved a rewarding one. General hail from Coventry and their engaging psychedelic stoner sound has been winning them a small army of fans, picking up a few more on the way last year with a few slots in support of Clutch..
Commander in chief is Grahame Stokes, a highly engaging frontman with an endearing habit of turning to the drummer after nearly every song to casually ask ‘what’s the next one!’ The easy going demeanour should not though be confused with indifference as General certainly have their soldiers lined up in good order, blasting out some great numbers from their debut album Where are their Gods Now?
They immediately found their groove right from the start with some steaming Sabbath inspired sounds on songs such as ‘Better Dead’. General will be back in Birmingham to support My Ruin on 20th August and have a headline slot at Scruffys on 12th September, well worth checking out.
Consolamentum has been quite properly acclaimed as one of the doom albums of this, or any other, year. While its many attributes are quite rightly held aloft as shining lights of doom at its absolute finest, it still doesn’t prepare you for the sheer impact of The Wounded Kings live.
Guitarist Steve Mills is the flame that warms The Wounded Kings’ ingredients. Great sweeping swathes of unparalleled emotion encapsulated in haunting songs that tremble with sincerity and sorcery. Steve must have felt happier than a lottery winner the day he finally found his new singer in Sharie Newland. Sharie has such a visceral stage presence and poise that after Steve had conducted the auditions – once former singer George Birch decided to leave – there was no need for a recount.
Consolamentum is The Wounded Kings’ second album with Sharie and while the 2011 release In the Chapel of the Black Hand, is a dark delight with four mesmeric songs, this year’s follow-up elevates the Kings to the very peak of the doom tree. And so opening with the album’s first, and longest, track ‘Gnosis’ The Wounded Kings treated the Asylum crowd to an hour or so of majestic hypnotic doom during which the members of the band did not so much as utter a word to the assembled throng. Instead they immersed themselves in some transcendental therapy during which the bleakness and coldness of the moors were transmitted to a small Birmingham venue.
‘Gnosis’ is a meandering 13 minutes of such morose denseness you almost need x-ray specs to peer through the gloom. Its crescendo building intro is heavier than a traction engine and moves at roughly the same speed, slowly. With Sharie waiting to play her part the rhythm duo of Steve and Alex gradually heighten the tension at an almost unbearable slowness with Jim’s patient bass contributions’ topped off by Myke’s methodical pounding of the drums.
When the rumbling riffs start to spiral ever higher you know Sharie is about to enter the fray and when she does it is with an unnerving vocal style that trembles with deceptive power tinged with darkness around the edges. With the cry of ‘I saw the Devil he made my shadows flesh’ you almost had to glance over your shoulder just to make sure the fire breathing cloven hoofed swineherd had not just climbed the Asylum stairs to join the party.
Having constructed a stage entrance that required most gaping jaws to be scraped back up off the floor, the Kings then taunted us as though ending ‘Gnosis’ before whipping things up into a frantic fevered finale, a whirlwind of hallucinogenic hellish riffs against which the suddenly unleashed Myke Heath started pummeling his skins until they could take no more.
With the Asylum still reeling from an opening blow of devastating power, The Wounded Kings maintained the momentum by rolling straight into another 13-minute torturous track, ‘The Cult of Souls’, from the band’s previous album, In the Chapel of the Black Hand. This time though Sharie dictates from the start, her piercing cries tingling the spine against a pounding unforgiving battery of charred primeval doom.
After testing our endurance to the limits with a double handed start of monolith magnitude, The Wounded Kings, then delivered what for them passes as a jaunty six minute hike in ‘Lost Bride’ a sorrowful sombre sojourn in which Sharie singlehandedly takes on the Miss Havisham role, minus the crumbling lace veil. ‘Lost Bride’ is another mournful episode and yet within its still beating heart pumps a beautiful black melody with the Kings almost putting up a protective barrier around their singer.
Watching The Wounded Kings is the abject opposite of what you would expect with most live shows. This is just barren beauty that envelopes you like a yellow edged shroud. The title track of the new album is a stand-out in anyone’s book, but live it takes on an even more dissolute dimension with an aggravated twist at the start before the song slowly delved deeper into the abyss, meeting its pulsating climax with Sharie’s repeated cries of ‘Consolamentum’.
Two more epic slabs of doom completed the stunning set, ‘In the Chapel of the Black Hand’ and ‘The Silence’ during which the presence of the horned demon could almost be sensed lurking within the shadows of the Asylum such were the satanic signals smoldering on the stage. Indeed, the Prince of Darkness would be welcome at any future Kings gigs, but when it comes to creating an eerie ambience quivering with ghoulish goings on even he would have to play second fiddle to the all conquering Wounded Kings.
The Wounded Kings setlist
- The Cult of Souls
- Lost Bride
- In the Chapel of the Black Hand
- The Silence