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Royal Hunt - Land of Broken Hearts - 78%

GOOFAM, October 4th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2001, CD, Monsters of Rock Records

Royal Hunt starts what turned out to be a long and illustrious career with this disc. While it does have some markings of an immature debut record, all of the elements of the band's majestic sound are in place here, and thus it's a surprisingly strong debut.

Keyboardist and bandleader Andre Andersen comes up with a consistent and energetic set of songs, and the band tears through them with a fury and reckless abandon that they never really equaled. The rhythm guitars push forward with numerous sixteenth note gallops, and the vocal melodies rush with urgency. The typical dramatic atmospheric arrangements that define the band's sound are immediately apparent from the intro to opener "Running Wild" and don't let up, and even the call-and-response vocal dynamics that would be equally prominent later on show up with reasonable frequency (and frankly, better execution than on most later releases).

The biggest downside of Land of Broken Hearts is the low production values--the big, lush sound of later releases isn't here. The instruments certainly are all clear, and the mix breathes, but Andersen's array of keyboard tones sound extremely cheap and chintzy--there are some downright silly lead sounds and string patches here. Vocalist Henrik Brockmann, the least known of the four singers that would front the band, is not a very precise singer like his successors, and the production doesn't accentuate his voice well in places, giving him an overly dry presence in spots that call for more reverb. Drummer Kenneth Olsen's snare cuts through the mix okay, but the drum sounds are a little overly thuddy and the cymbals sound thin here. However, the guitars--played by Andersen and a variety of session guitarists, including future full-timer Jacob Kjaer--have consistently punchy, bright tones, and actually play a bigger role on this album than most later RH releases.

If you can get past the production (which really isn't that bad--it's better than the When Dream and Day Unites of the world) and Brockmann's occasionally wavering vocals, this set reveals itself to be thoroughly enjoyable. Highlights include the breezy "Easy Rider," the gorgeous semi-ballad "Age Gone Wild," and the darting "One By One." The uptempo feel of most of the tracks gives this album a frenetic energy, as Brockmann's tough, edgy delivery and the driving guitars fit together nicely, and the atmospherics also let the band pull back effectively on songs like "Age Gone Wild" and the title track.

Due to the low production values, this isn't the Royal Hunt album to start with. However, for those won over by their later, more polished efforts, this album is sure to be appreciated. Several of these songs are in better form on live albums and the 2002 EP The Watchers, but even the original versions in their unprocessed form are quite enjoyable. This is a good snapshot of a band that showed potential quickly and would certainly deliver on it.