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Since I reviewed "The Shadow over Atlantis" over a year ago, The Wounded Kings have changed from a duo barely able to support a full-rounded doom metal sound to a fully fledged traditionally styled doom metal quintet. In some ways, this works against the band because now there is not much that's distinctive about the band's style and the musicians must rely harder on song-writing ability and playing chops to get any attention. The obsession with post-apocalyptic science fiction themes has gone as well and in its place is the occult and horror which have been well-trodden over the years by other doom metallers past and present. The Wounded Kings have become a completely different band from what I was familiar with and one that probably wouldn't have caught my attention had "In the Chapel of the Black Hand" been released before "The Shadow ...".
At least "In the Chapel ..." begins very strongly with "The Cult of Souls" which boasts a stupendous guitar riff, a stony organ tone and Sharie Neyland's sinister vocals that seem to curl around the lyrics before hurling them out into the black ether surrounding the music. The song is not complicated: monster chunky guitar riffs rip off the strings in long slashes and an oily lead sounds off mournfully over the sacrificial ritual conducted by Neyland. Of course it has to be a sacrificial ritual though when one hears an invocation addressed to Dionysius, one imagines his female followers in a frenzy chasing a young male, ripping him apart and offering his bloodied limbs to the god ... now that would have been a good subject for a doom metal song! Unfortunately what we are given is something generic that could have come straight out of Hammer horror parody. The song ends up stretching for an uninspired set of some 14 minutes after a hopeful introduction.
"Rites of Oblivion" is a slow, solemn and repetitive piece with some good riffs and more of Neyland's slightly trembling witchy vocals which now have some reverb on them. Although what she sings isn't all that remarkable, at least within her narrow range she has quite a good voice and a nice trade in howling that complements the sharp, almost acid organ, the Cathedral-like guitar drones and the cold black atmosphere of the album. Heavy lumbering riffs that change key, wobbly oily lead guitar, cold static organ and pounding drums create a strong druggy atmosphere, not quite psychedelic but almost there: the air feels heavy and thick at least.
"Return of the Sorcerer" is a short 'n' slow instrumental piece that in its slightly roughened sound reminds me of Shadow-over-Atlantis Wounded Kings. I almost expect Neyland's predecessor George Birch to start singing again in that bleached-out voice ... but instead acid lead guitar plays a squiggly, wiggly melody over an orange-burnt landscape of rhythm drones. Nice track while it lasts.
The title piece, like the other tracks, announces itself decisively with heavy beats and equally emphatic guitar riff slashes. It turns out to be a fairly ordinary track with Neyland's half-spoken / half-sung vocals tracing out lyrics about something evil going bump in the dark and more lead guitar woffling over the muscular rhythm section.
While "In the Chapel ..." isn't a bad album, I had expected a stronger follow-up to "The Shadow over Atlantis" and I'm a bit disappointed that "In the Chapel ..." signals a retreat to familiar doom metal territory tarted up with influences from old 1960s Italian horror films: something that across the Atlantic pond, the one-man band Blizaro is better at because he infuses the genre with sly and affectionate parody while The Wounded Kings play the music straight. The band needs original ideas and inspiration that don't rely on traditional horror and Gothic themes. It wouldn't be a bad idea if Neyland's vocals were complemented with a second, preferably male vocal as her voice lacks the variety in range to carry an album longer than 40 minutes.