The new Gloryhammer album is out! As I said in a recent post, I’ve been really quite excited about Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards, expecting a well-executed power metal album that homages every bad, cheesy sci-fi trope in the book. Gloryhammer didn’t disappoint me in the slightest.
Not to beat around the bush, Space 1992 is awesome from start to finish, with excellent guitar work, soaring vocals and a few symphonic touches that really set off the more traditionally “metal” tracks nicely. I struggle to pick a stand-out track because the whole album is full of joyous metal anthems, without any filler tracks. I don’t even dislike the obligatory ballad, Heroes (of Dundee), which probably exists so that moshers who see Gloryhammer’s live set can take a piss-break.
Lyrically, Space 1992 is shamelessly cheesy, from the narration in the opening track, to the ominous Latin chanting that ends the epic final song. Expanding Gloryhammer’s Dundee-centric saga into space basically meant adding “Space”, “Astral” or “Cosmic” as a prefix to the important nouns: hence, the evil sorceror Zargothrax has defeated the heroic space-knights and seeks to destroy the space-kingdom of Dundee, but is opposed by King Angus McFife XIII, who wields the astral hammer. Zargothrax is played by the band’s keyboardist Christopher Bowes of Alestorm fame (and ASDFGFA notoriety), and indeed, all the major characters in the storyline are represented in the lyrics booklet by band-members in costume:
Amazingly, despite the thematic focus, none of the band chose to dress up as a robot. Angus McFife XIII comes closest in his repainted Iron Man armour. I guess that under hot stage lighting a robot costume is a death wish for an energetic performer. I like how the (space-) barbarian warrior or Unst, wears pretty much the same outfit as his medieval counterpart from the previous album. Even when you’ve swapped your sword for ray-guns, “armour made from wolf” makes it clear you’re not to be messed with. As a lover of Red-Dwarf, I can enjoy the depiction of Ser Proletius as a Rimmer-style Hologram – he could use a nice chrome “H” on his forehead, though.
On the subject of the barbarian of Unst, there is a song all about him on this album, called Hollywood Hootsman, which channels the spirit of W.A.S.P.’s glory days. The Legend of The Astral Hammer, appropriately enough, reminds me of early (before they started to suck) Hammerfall. Golbin King of the Darksun Galaxy has much stronger keyboard work than the rest of the album, and has some beautiful layered melodies.
Heroes (of Dundee), the obligatory ballad, is the closest this album gets to having a weak track, but it’s still pretty good. It shows how much better Gloryhammer having gotten at their craft since 2013’s Tales From The Kingdom of Fife, which contained the extremely skippable Silent Tears of Frozen Princess. Heroes (of Dundee) reminds me of Glory to the Brave by Hammerfall, which is the only other example of a good power-metal ballad that comes to mind.
Because I’m a huge nerd, I pre-ordered this album, and got the two-disc version. The second disc is called Space 1992: Apocalypse Suite for Orchestra and Choir. It comprises instrumental versions of the first disc’s tracks, with alternate titles. These versions are stripped not only of vocals, but of guitars and bass – they’re just the keyboard parts of the songs, elaborated into whole tunes in their own right. These tracks are surprisingly strong, and surprisingly different from the songs from they derive: An Evil Wizard Does a Quest is going straight into my dungeon synth playlist, which isn’t something I ever expected to say about a Gloryhammer track.
I’m not sure it’s fair to call this a parody record, despite the lyrics about “tears of a unicorn”, “astral dwarfs from Aberdeen” and “a magical wizard is doing a spell”, I’d say it’s more of a loving homage to the European power-metal scene: one that keeps the flaws in typically Euro-power metal intact as well as keeping the awesomeness. I’m pretty sure that Gloryhammer know which of their lyrics are cringe-worthy or gigglesome, and they’re quietly chortling along with those fans who get the joke.
Gloryhammer don’t strike me as a band who take themselves too seriously, and central to their musical ethos is that they are having fun and inviting their audience to share in it. It’s clear from every song on this album that they play this kind of music for no other reason than love for the genre. How many bands are genuinely cool enough to invite fans to come and play Magic The Gathering with the band before they perform?