For those in the know, Ares Kingdom remain one of the most relevant bands in the underground today and the epitome of everything that heavy metal can and should be. Wearing their 80s influences loud and proud on their sleeves while creating a sound entirely their own, the band makes some of the most emotionally-resonant, hook-laden and structurally precise music of the last decade and a half. Driven by Chuck Keller’s imperturbable vision, forged in the crucibles of the great Order From Chaos, Ares Kingdom are that one rare band in 2013 that makes you want to call yourself a metalhead. Veneration is their libation to the music that influenced them as young men; the gesture replete with meaning, the execution dripping with intent, and certainly not keeping with the modern zeitgeist when observing and honoring the past has been reduced to a grim parody reeking of cynicism.
Ares Kingdom‘s sound is an explosive mix of extreme underground metal from the 80s, leaning more towards the blackened death/thrash of bands like early Destruction, Pentagram (Chile), Slaughter Lord, Bulldozer, among others. The vibe is more bludgeon than surgical incision, admittedly something that takes getting used to but an effort bountifully rewarded in immaculately, painstakingly assembled metal that has ultimate emphasis on songcraft without losing an ounce of vitality. Brilliant lyrical wordplay, an art lost on virtually every modern band, is consistently evidenced in Ares Kingdom‘s work; the significance of the right accent and enunciation at the right time is far too often relegated to the back shed but capturing the opportune turn of phrase can be all the difference between good and great.
Veneration starts with ‘Die By Power’, Slaughter Lord‘s timeless classic from the mid 80s. Chuck Keller’s distinctive guitar – fiercely melodic, tapping away like some fly on the wall that went through metamorphosis in Eddie Van Halen’s basement – is all over this thing. While the original is discernible, certainly by the time the simple yet unforgettable chorus comes around, this particular rendition contains all of Ares Kingdom‘s hallmark energy and forward thrust.
Sacrilege‘s ‘Captive’ gets the treatment next, carrying a lot of the industrial chug that made Order From Chaos‘ ‘Forsake Me This Mortal Coil’ the gold standard in underground death metal breakdowns. Alex Blume’s caustic rasps, such an integral part of the band’s sound, are in fine fettle on this recording, elevating the cover above the original’s frankly torpid female vocals. It is fascinating to see how effortlessly Keller moulds his style around these songs. Or perhaps it is the other way ’round and what we’re really witnessing is the block-upon-block deconstruction of Ares Kingdom‘s sound.
R.U.Dead?, a little-known death metal band from Germany actively endorsed by Chuck Keller, put out a series of recordings in the 90s which were collected on the ..Completely Dead compilation and gained a fair bit of delayed notoriety in the underground through their adventurous blend of styles and textures. ‘When Your Heart Turns Black’ is Ares Kingdom doffing their hats to a band they identify with in spirit and is the only overt death metal song on this album befitting the original, albeit done with Ares Kingdom‘s patented thrashy flair. About the only things lacking here are the egregious twang of the bass guitar and, to a lesser extent, R.U.Dead‘s sense of slow-burning menace.
Short-lived Mefisto from Sweden are introduced with ‘Act Dead’ , a straight-ahead assault of primitive death drawing influences from early Metallica and the then burgeoning Euro-thrash. Ares Kingdom clean up the cover, emphasizing the thudding breakdown verse in the middle
‘Celestial’, a song off Chuck Keller’s short-lived space metal project Vulpecula is next. Specializing in vast, sparse sonicscapes with a more deliberate, ponderous template, the original is sped up a little here and could easily fit in on either of Ares Kingdom‘s two full lengths. Again, like the R.U.Dead? cover, this is played to perfection and would be inseparable from the rest of the band’s catalog but in the same breath it loses some of the original’s atmosphere and meditative air. Is there a pattern evolving here?
Dokken‘s ‘Without Warning/Tooth And Nail’ set piece closes off this set of tributes, a surprising choice but one destined to go down among the great metal covers. This is the one song here with a slightly different, more blatant melodic slant compared to Ares Kingdom‘s style but the band pulls it off effortlessly, Keller peeling off solo after solo of George Lynch’s theatrics. Brilliant stuff.
Veneration, then. An ideal gift to fans of the band between releases, solidifying Ares Kingdom‘s reputation as one of the fiercest, most genuine bands working in the scene. For the uninitiated, this is as good as an original album, the songs adapted to the band’s signature, but still an essential entry course into the history of the genre.