Visigoth are a band I stumbled across quite accidentally just over a year ago while aimlessly window-shopping on Bandcamp, and I’m glad to have found them while their career was still in its embryonic stages, not coming to them with any pre-formed opinions. I admit to being an easy lay for their brand of infectious USPM with its thick, rough-hewn rhythm section and silky, fluid melody lines, but it’s a style that can easily turn rancid when placed in inexpert hands. Their 2012 EP “Final Spell” (and to a lesser extent, the 2010 demo “Vengeance”) have crept up from “good” to “great” in my estimation over time, having insistently wormed their way into my ear and sequestered themselves in my brain so effectively that I seem to know their every track by heart without having made any particular effort to memorise them. They’re so eminently listenable that when I’m browsing through my music library of an evening, I’ll stop at “Iron Brotherhood” or “Seven Golden Ships” without conscious thought and settle comfortably into them like a pair of freshly laundered socks.
All Visigoth had to do to impress me on their first full-length record – released on the prestigious Metal Blade Records, no less – was to keep doing what they were already doing, just for slightly longer, and that’s exactly what they’ve done for “The Revenant King.” The twist is that there is no twist – surprises are overrated, and sometimes getting exactly what you wanted is exactly as satisfying as you hoped and expected it would be. “The Revenant King” is an hour of mighty anthems to escapism and fantastical self-empowerment, animated by a spirit of fierce joy and what David DeFeis would call Barbaric-Romanticism, and I love it enthusiastically.
A mix of new and old material, the three tracks carried over from Visigoth’s earlier EPs – “Iron Brotherhood,” “Vengeance” and “Creature of Desire” – have all been polished and tightened up, the former two in particular benefiting from vocalist Jake Rogers reigning in the excessively coarse, cigarette-blackened vocal affectations that were the only real liability on the original “Vengeance” demo. The a cappella section midway through the track of the same name especially stands out as being incomparably improved, and “Creature of Desire,” already the band’s fieriest and best song, benefits from a shot in the arm, being performed with even greater passion and exuberance than before.
The added spit-shine makes these the definitive versions of excellent songs that well-represent Visigoth’s well-rounded songwriting ethos – simple enough for the listener to wrap their head around it after the first chorus, but with guitar work involved and busy enough that it remains interesting throughout some fairly roomy running times (with the exception of a cover of Manilla Road’s classic “Necropolis,” every song on the disc comes in at over five minutes), shifting into different grooves and tempos during bridges and solos to maintain momentum. Solos are consistently exciting propositions, Jamison Palmer and Leeland Campana expertly channelling the keen melodicism and lush harmonies of Iron Maiden or Twisted Tower Dire. Jake Rogers’ vocal performance is conducted in a distinctly low, baritone register, rarely indulging in showy, virtuosic screams, but it has a charismatic, sonorous power to it, made all the easier to sing along to when supplemented by gang-shout choruses.
Among the new material, the more vigorous songs are “Dungeon Master” and “Blood Sacrifice.” The former is a close second to “Creature of Desire” for the title of my favourite song on the record, a delightfully buoyant and just-silly-enough tribute to the joys of role playing, equal parts Robert E Howard and Gary Gygax (I wonder whether some of the DMs I’ve played with over the years would be flattered or offended if I referred to them as “the master of the evil in the deep”). The latter is big, splashy and dramatic, alternating between propulsive speed metal riffing and soaring, melodramatic chorus hooks. “Mammoth Rider,” by comparison, keeps things to a steady anthemic simmer, ticking along in a stately mid-tempo seemingly as indebted to Mediterranean epic metal masters like Doomsword or Holy Martyr as much as anything by Jag Panzer or Omen, with hooks perfectly calibrated for concert audiences looking to pump fists or stamp feet.
Of the nine tracks on “The Revenant King,” I’m least convinced by the epics that bookend the record, the eight-minute title track and the near-ten-minute “From the Arcane Mists of Prophecy.” While neither is by any means bad, I find that in their pursuit of stature they relinquish some of the instant, visceral listenability that attracted me to Visigoth in the first place. The former eventually arrives at an agreeably epic solo that segues into a memorable section of crashing downstrokes and commanding call-and-response vocal lines, but it goes for too long not being terribly catchy or dynamic to get there. Similarly, “From the Arcane Mists of Prophecy” boasts some superb vocal melodies and one of the album’s best guitar solos, and is laudable for its ambitious structure, but to get to the good stuff it has to negotiate its way through passages of tremolo-picked riffs that don’t have the heft and impact and “crunch” that prior songs so satisfied my craving for.
A couple of shaky sections aren’t nearly enough to sink the enterprise though, or even render “The Revenant King” anything other than a rousing success. What works here works like gangbusters, every element coming together for rousing, extroverted metal hymns. Incendiary, euphoric and fathomlessly re-listenable; without wanting to jinx it, I wouldn’t be surprised if Visigoth were soon crowned the new champions of the cult USPM circuit.
01) The Revenant King
02) Dungeon Master
03) Mammoth Rider
04) Blood Sacrifice
05) Iron Brotherhood
06) Necropolis (Manilla Road cover)
08) Creature of Desire
09) From the Arcane Mists of Prophecy