Review by Josh C.
Tales from the Kingdom of Fife is the debut album from the Scotland-based power metal band Gloryhammer, released in 2013. Formed by Christopher Bowes of Alestorm fame, Gloryhammer’s debut album marries the musical tropes that make up power metal with an over-the-top presentation that amps up all of the aesthetic elements popular to the sub-genre to 11. Their debut album is a masterfully-written collection of symphonic power metal songs that manages to both playfully expose the sillier elements of the genre and be a wonderful love-letter to it.
One of the unique things about Gloryhammer is that all (3 at this moment) of their albums come together to form one single fantasy/sci-fi story. This first album is a bog-standard fantasy story, following the exploits of Prince Angus McFife of Dundee (portrayed in their live shows by singer Thomas Winkler) as he quests to stop the evil wizard Zargothrax (portrayed by Bowes) from taking over the land of Dundee. This story does not shy away from the absurd or silly, yet the tone struck is a relatively straight one, with just enough tongue in the cheek to remind the listener, that yes, the band is aware this is ridiculous.
This is demonstrated immediately with the opening track (discounting the minute-and-a-half intro song), “The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee”, depicting Zargothrax’s invasion of Dundee with an army of zombie unicorns. Amusingly, the lyrics sometimes include questionable grammatical choices, such as the line “and taken prison with cry” from said opening song. Presumably, they’re a reference to the questionable grammar in the lyrics of early German power metal bands who popularized the genre.
Musically, the album does a fantastic job of blending the different realms of power metal in a way few bands do. Songs like “The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee” and “Amulet of Justice” are uptempo, aggressive tunes reminiscent of the earlier, faster material of bands like Blind Guardian and Helloween, while songs like “Angus McFife” and “Hail to Crail” are more mid-tempo works that evoke bands like Hammerfall. While the lyrics and presentation are very silly, the band makes the crucial decision to play the music entirely straight. Remove the vocals and you’ll hear fairly straightforward power metal, though very well written. This provides the necessary anchor in the familiar the listener needs to be able to allow the vocals to take them to the absurd places they’re going.
All of this is done with a very well-done weaving of symphonic elements into the songs. Through most of the songs, string and horn sections are playing along with the band, which is nothing new for power metal. However, neither element of the arrangement gets in the way of the other, and the band knows when to pull back guitar and vocal parts to make room for the symphony and vice-versa.
A big part of why this works is the fantastic production work by Lasse Lammert. The guitar tone is crisp and crunchy, yet not overbearing. The band as a whole sounds very tight and punchy, but enough gaps are left for the midrange-heavy elements that make up the symphony. Listen closely and you can hear as Lasse automates the level of instruments up and down as necessary for each part of the songs.
While the band’s presentation could easily fall into the realm of “gimmick”, Gloryhammer executes every element of this album with enough confidence and mastery for it to come across as entirely genuine, something many of their copycats have failed to do. While many fans of the genre will find it a fun, refreshing take on the genre, it also acts as a fantastic entry point for those interested in power metal. If you find it interesting, also check out their follow up albums “Space 1992: Rise of The Chaos Wizards” and “Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex”, which musically are just as worthy as their debut, and add-on a sci-fi sheen both musically and lyrically.