without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Royal Hunt looked to be in something of a downward spiral before the release of Paper Blood. Sure, it was only four years since the glorious The Mission came out, but that album was the only one in a trio of John West-era releases that had much enduring appeal. Further, after the release of the rote-sounding Eyewitness album, longtime guitarist Jacob Kjaer and bassist Steen Mogensen left the band, leaving only West and keyboardist/mastermind Andre Andersen on board. By the time Andersen got the songs for Paper Blood together, they had added then-unknown guitarist Marcus Jidell to the fold, but Andersen played the bass parts on the album in addition to the keys and brought in former drummer Allan Sørensen on a session basis. One might think that this patchwork lineup would continue the band's descent into mediocrity, but surprise: Paper Blood is one of the best albums in the Danish band's high-quality catalog.
This is probably the heaviest the band ever got. Andersen surprisingly cedes more sonic ground to Jidell than he ever did to Kjaer, giving classic Royal Hunt surgers like "Break Your Chains," "Not My Kind," "Never Give Up," and the title track a heavy edge in addition to the usual layered bombast. Jidell's also a shreddier soloist than Kjaer, lending more purpose and energy to instrumental sections than the band ever had before. The album is also extremely well-produced, with a rich, textured sound that accommodates the numerous layers of the band well.
As for the vocals, West turns in easily the best performance of his four Royal Hunt studio albums, combining the grit and power of Eyewitness with the supreme melodic flair of The Mission. "Not My Kind" and the title track have some badass verses and anthemic choruses, and the stomping, surging "Kiss of Faith" is an all-time classic, unfolding from a strange country intro into possibly the band's most anthemic of their many rousing refrains. Sørensen, who sounds fully integrated into the sound here (unlike previous Eyewitness session man Allan Tschicaja), unleashes a beastly drum break in the latter track as well.
The only downside of Paper Blood is that there's not enough of it. The album's ten-song listing is padded with not one, not two, but three instrumentals, which really is overkill. Not that there's anything wrong with the band's musicianship, as the instrumentals all pass by pleasantly, with some interesting moments at times, but this is band whose strength lies more in tight, impactful compositions than showboating. One of the seven remaining vocal tracks, "Seven Days" is a clear miss, wandering with little sense of direction.
But still, there are four all-time Royal Hunt classics here in "Not My Kind," "Kiss of Faith," the title track, and gorgeous power ballad "Season's Change," which showcases West in The Mission style. It's the band's best ballad since "Long Way Home" all the way back on 1997's Paradox, and they haven't had a better one since.
So, while the padding might make this album feel a little slight, there are four truly indelible songs on here, supplemented by the quite good if less enduring "Break Your Chains" and "Never Give Up." It's a worthy culmination of the band's progress in the ten-year West era.
Royal Hunt is probably one of the most underrated prog metal bands in existence today. Chalk it up to their label, country of origin(Denmark), or something else undetermined- the point is that ignoring this masterful group is a criminal act and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Most well-known for Paradox and the Ray Bradbury-inspired concept album The Mission, RH burst out with Paper Blood in 2005- a furiously melodic gem which playfully danced among 80s hard rock, prog metal, and power metal. John West charges through these tracks with an arena-ready voice of the gods and he's the main reason why there's an 80s flavor to this, aside from the guitar crunch and attitude. His voice isn't quite as operatic as most power metal singers and isn't as clean as most prog metal singers. Instead, he sounds more like a huskier Bon Jovi or any number of AOR vocalists, which isn't a bad thing. Get it out of your head right now that that's a bad thing.
Throughout the entire album the keyboards buzz right through your body, severing bone and muscle in the most pleasurable way possible. They're not brutal, but the tone used is so heavy and astral that it makes you think twice about pissing on them as leading instruments. If you're going to listen to music like this, you should expect to hear keyboards and like them in healthy quantities. The good thing is that this album loves them, but they're not flowery and there's a solid riff base supporting all this. I dare you to sit through any of the three instrumentals without going through the rest of your life with a brain of fried mush.
Lyrically, Paper Blood is about money and how it practically runs through all of our veins, capillaries, and arteries, figuratively speaking. It took me a while to figure out what the hell paper blood is, but when it dawned on me it was marvelous. The social consciousness prog is known for is well on display here, rest assured. Songs such as "Break Your Chains"(which was nominated for a best metal song on a list a couple years ago) and "Never Give Up" also deliver powerful messages of self-actualization and self-empowerment. We sure need that nowadays.
Royal Hunt continue to show they are a unique voice in progressive metal, striking a steady balance between brawn and elegance, retro and modern. Check them out now, because Mercyful Fate isn't the only good metal band from Denmark.