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As a virgin listener to melodic progressive metal band Royal Hunt, this was a review I had been anticipating for a while. Not normally a huge fan of prog metal (I do enjoy the recent Dream Theater material however), the great part about being a reviewer is that I get to hear and write reviews on bands/genres that would not normally be my first choice. That way, the reader does get a non-bias opinion from a fellow neutral-minded metalhead. In this case, we have Royal Hunt’s tenth full-length release, dubiously titled ‘X’. This review may be almost 13 months overdue (released in Jan 2010), however as the ‘ole saying goes - it is better late than never.
These Danish gents have been on the scene for quite some time, their first CD released back in 1992 and have featured well known vocalists D.C. Cooper (Silent Force) and John West (no, not the fish guy) throughout their career. Royal Hunt’s latest vocalist is Mark Boals (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, Ring Of Fire) and ‘X’ will be Boals’ second CD with this band, starting with 2008’s ‘Paradox II- Collision Course’.
For this latest disc, keyboardist Andre Andersen and engineer Lars Overgaard (who sadly passed away in August 2010) chose to use Puk Studios for the mixing, rather than their normal Medley Studios, which Royal Hunt has used for the majority of their releases. Puk Studios is Scandinavia’s largest residential studio and has boasted many high-profile artists and bands over the years, including Judas Priest, Helloween, Satyricon, George Michael, Depeche Mode and Elton John. Royal Hunt wanted to achieve a 70’s sounding feel in the music for the CD and after going through the disc, I must proclaim that they nailed it right on the head. Not on a 70’s rock feel, but I can also hear an 80’s atmosphere as well. Add to that the majestic, wonderful and somewhat throaty tones of Mark Boals, who is an excellent vocalist and quite underrated. I can hear a faint similarity at times with Kamelot’s Roy Khan and also Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, however Boals’ voice would be a tad deeper than Khan’s.
While not a traditional melodic prog band, Royal Hunt’s sound on ‘X’ is most certainly melodic, with catchy guitar riffs and keyboard driven tunes that just seem to absorb you. The bass guitar is ferociously prominent in the tracks on the release, while the addition of additional singers in a choir style sends you spiralling back a few decades to when that style was the norm. Also included are some very nice and nifty guitar solos, nothing over the top, but straight to the point and impressive just the same. Nothing too heavy nor fast, just mid-paced and non-threatening melodic prog rock/metal, that would appeal to fans of most melodic prog rock and also 70’s juggernauts Uriah Heap and Deep Purple.
After the two minute intro “Episode X (Arrival)”, we get to one of the highlights on the CD, the rocking “End of the Line”. If this track doesn’t make your head nod or foot tap from its hypnotising opening guitar riff and beat, then this is not the music for you. With Boals’ soaring vocals and the choirs at the helm, the track glides through with effortless melodic ease and is catchy as hell. “King for a Day” brings the tempo down a notch or two, driven by flighty keyboards and hard squealing riffs, reminding me of Whitesnake back in their heyday. Boals is again the standout on this quality track. “Army of Slaves” has another catchy melody and guitar riff, reminiscent of 80’s hard rock and another top track amongst other gems on this release. This magnificent CD boasts more melodic not-notch hits such as “Back to Square One”, “Falling Down” and the beautiful and moving ballad “The Last Leaf”.
Not hearing Royal Hunt really at all until now, I didn’t know what to expect. One thing is for sure, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by this CD, but this is exactly the case with ‘X’. The sound achieved on this disc may not necessarily be the typical and traditional sound of Royal Hunt, but I personally feel that it kicks ass. I’m almost 34, so it could be my musical upbringing of 70’s and 80’s bands which paved my way into heavy metal which makes me so fond of this style of melodic prog rock/metal. This CD may not be ground-breaking in any way, but it’s a slab of melodic greatness that is to be enjoyment in the moment, which remains memorable long after the disc has been put away. Definitely a disc worth picking up for Royal Hunt fans and also fans of melodic prog rock/metal that have heard of this band, but have not made the effort to hear them just yet. Do yourself a favour and get it while you still can, you won’t be disappointed.
Originally written for www.metalcdratings.com and www.themetalforge.com