You usually need to know a fair amount about Metal and the history of Metal to fully understand absolutely every point I will make, and having listened to the album yourself will also help. If you don’t have a clue what I’m writing about but still wish to read, having a tab open on Wikipedia to intermittently check anything you don’t understand, as well as a tab open on Grooveshark, Youtube or something Spotify-esque to check any musical reference points you haven’t heard will help too. Of course, that’s not to say I’m some more-metal-than-thou elitist preacher, just that having to give context or explanations to absolutely every point would severely derail these articles.
The album that I’ll be listening to in this edition of First Impressions is Savatage’s Hall Of The Mountain King, the band’s commercial breakthrough album and the album just prior to the band’s real turning into a Prog band, with albums like ‘Gutter Ballet’ and ‘Streets – A Rock Opera.’
The album kicks off with ‘24 Hours Ago’ which is a lot heavier and about one shade darker than the album with which I had read it shared similarities and thus became interested in trying it out from, Queensryche’s The Warning from 1984. Queensryche are a band that I actually first discovered from a First Impressions article, but I’ve taken to them immensely ever since and The Warning is an album which I would rate very highly indeed.
Anyway, ’24 Hours Ago’ is surprisingly rhythmic and Pantera-esque in the way that the chugging synchs up with the double kicks. It has touches of lead guitar coming in and out almost constantly from its beginning and huge echoey falsetto vocals at the end of vocal lines with lower pitched Mille Petrozza style angry talk-singing. Sounds like it’ll be right up my street then!
Some of the bendy and screachy guitar moments are very reminiscent of both Zack Wylde and Dimebag Darrel. At the three-and-a-half minute point however there is a bass break and the song takes on a sort of punky shuffle that reminds me of nirvana and Pearl Jam indirectly as well as in general when kids on Children’s TV (like Clarissa Explains It All for example) would be in vaguely Rock and Metal related situations.
The second song, Beyond The Doors Of The Dark, despite the fact that it feels like a hosepipe that is nominally a straight line but actually keeps coiling in around itself at random intervals, is a much more straightforwardly 1980s Metal song. It reminds me a lot of Angel Witch in a way but the drums underneath the recurring vocal ‘a never-ending suicde’ where the china cymbal is hit along with double kicks reminds me more of Kreator, as well as maybe 90s Slayer with Bostaph on drums.
Sometimes, when the choral swell comes up in the background it is actually reminiscent of Queensryche’s The Warning, but an almost Thrash Version. Especially since the way the song ends with a quick stab of three chords really, REALLY reminds me of how Dave Mustaine works.
The third track, ‘Legions,’ feels like a mixture of the first two tracks, with, unexpectedly, Guns N Roses and Skid Row style Hair/Sleaze/Hard rock. Something about the main riff just feels like Slash or the Sunset Strip. It’s a really interesting song, and the lead guitar at the three minute mark is an example of my absolute favourite type of guitar solo… if I was a guitarist, I’d actually stop writing and go learn that solo right away.
Would you like to hear a joke stolen essentially from Ben Yahtzee Crowshaw? Ok: Would you like to know what I think about the fourth track ? Well, So the fuck would I! because when I try to play it on both my ipod and my computer it skips right to the next song despite actually being four minutes long, and when I try to create a new mp3 version in iTunes (from who’s store I bought the darn thing) all I get is an ‘Unknown Error (-3)’ message. I wonder if they’ll let me download it again for free?
The next track, named ‘Prelude To Madness’ is a metal reworking of the actual ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’ piece of Classical Music (you know, from the Alten Towers Adverts in the 90s). Its good, or at least as good as this sort of thing ever is. The guitar solos are enjoyable. It also features a bit of the perpetually covered Mars Section of Holst’s The Planets, like King Crimson and everybody else since.
The track which follows, is the title track ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’ which is a song about a Mountain King but a separate track from the Metal version of that track.
It is also absolutely fantastic. It kicks off right away with both a guitar solo and a brilliant riff that collects everything that’s good about the best Wylde-Era Ozzy riffs. The dynamics and structure of the track are bloody brilliant too, it’s a fantastic example of songwriting; everything lasts the perfect amount, and is finds the perfect follow up, the song layers up and down, rings and constant-streams, goes high and low, simple rhythms and more complex one, arpeggiated tails come in and out and when that opening riff comes back it always feels triumphant. Then the super-brief end lets the song die with a million possibilities floating around.
I read that they put this track on the soundtrack to Brutal Legend, and that seems like a brilliant idea… if I heard this come on in a videogame I’d damn sure want to find out who made it.
Its followed by the very fun ‘Price You Pay’ which has a very evocative theatrical vocal that makes it seem like it had a very famous black and white music video about a detective getting killed by the woman he thought he was saving. It has a bit of ‘Number Of The Beast’ in it, as well as a lot of early-Priest and even a bit of Turbo to my ears. This to my ears is the music that people who look like Motely Crue and Wasp make in my mind’s eye, even though I’m uninformed on the reality of that situation.
‘White Witch’ is just a straight up Thrash Metal song, but the chorus reminds me of Angel Witch yet again. Its an album highlight for sure, but hard to actually talk about. I imagine it would be enormous fun live.
The next track, which is essentially an intro, sounds so very much like it was written on one the first four Metallica albums, it has that shimmering but utterly depressing feeling like ‘Fade To Black’ and ‘One’ both have.
The album closes with ‘Devastion’ which sounds very similar to The Warning as I was promised, and its probably the least dark-edged on the album. There is one riff that reminds me of the connection between Metallica and Diamond Head. But mostly it sounds like The Warning. With Maybe a bit of Helloween too come to think about it.
My version came with two bonus tracks, the first of which is bloody amazing. Its an acoustic version of a track called ‘Castles Burning’ which I’ve not heard as its not from this album. But using my imagination to make it the only version of the song, its absolutely fantastic, and works as a proggy and very powerful film-soundtrack style song. It sounds like a suicide at a rainy British Cliffside uncovering a submarine full of Nazi gold, which causes a strained friendship to be tested but ultimately strengthened in a sport scar trip through the Nevada desert. Or at least that’s the image that comes to my mind. It sounds very like Queensryche’s alternative years but with a spark of genius. I’m almost afraid to just hear the Metal song it comes from.
The second track is a very Elton John/Axl Rose sounding Piano Ballad that reminds me of parts of Heart and Kansas that I like sometimes and dislike other times. Basically I can already tell that I have to be in the mood for this song and I’d love it some nights and be unable not to skip it other nights.
Overall; It was a very enjoyable album and one I’ll be keeping in my collection. Interestingly, for a famous Prog Metal album it doesn’t; despite all the nods to classical music, songs that coil around themselves, sounding a bit like Queensryche and its conceptual nature… despite everything that sounds like Prog Metal on Paper, it doesn’t actually sound all that Prog-Metal in nature.
But then I knew that going in, I knew already that their next two albums were when they got more prog-centric and that was part of my reason for choosing it, as I had been enjoying the aforementioned The Warning so much, which was also just on the verge of being both Progressive and Not.
However, regardless of what bracket I try and stick it in or how specifically it does or doesn’t sound like other bands, its just a straight-up good record with good songs and good musicianship and I’m glad I heard it.
I bet that the “true-metal” brigade would absolutely love this album though, its got everything that was good about the 1980s distilled into one well-written burst, and the production is really big and powerful.
Now… I’m off to see about that re-download…
***Edit: A quick follow up, yes, i could indeed re-download it because I use iCloud/Match. If this happens to you as well delete the on-computer track but don’t delete it from iCloud, then just download it again from iTunes for free. ***