We seem to be encountering a trend lately. The album’s we’ve covered so far in 2015 all seem to fit neatly into the broad category of ‘I bet I know what this sounds like.’ Well, enter Engel into that field, with their new record “Raven Kings,” the latest entry from the veteran journeymen of Swedish melodic death metal. Now, I can hear it already: ‘Another Swedish melodic death metal band, they probably sound just like Children of Bodom.’ First off, you’re wrong because CoB is Finnish. Moreover, you’re wrong because the emphasis on “Raven Kings” is on ‘melodic.’
Okay, so if there’s a similarity to be drawn between Engel and any of their genre contemporaries, it’s between this record and the more artistic selections of Soilwork. Many of the elements are similar in construction, with huge, hook-laden choruses and riffs that are technically sound without becoming a distraction.
There are a few simple, tried and true production techniques that help make “Raven Kings” work. People have been incorporating panning in their productions for at least forty years, but here it is again in the intro of “Denial” which takes the already buzzing guitar riff and makes it attention grabbing. It’s hard to keep your eyes from following it from one speaker to the next, which is a trick you’ve fallen for a million times but still works.
Really though, the strength of the album lies in the ability to compose cogent music that links together through a proper foundation of bridges and rhythm. The rollercoaster of “When the Earth Burns” from soft to light and back again would seem stock-in-trade for the genre, but Engel demonstrates a studied understanding of how these sections need to lock together in order to achieve the greatest effect.
What surprises the most about “Raven Kings” is the way it sneaks up on you. Speaking personally, I first listened to “Your Shadow Haunts You” on the way to work while thinking about a thousand different things and only half-paying attention. But later that day, something about the chorus of this chugging monster stuck with me and I found myself humming it while walking between buildings. Next day, without having heard the song since, I was humming it again. It was stuck in there, and that’s a credit either to the retention of my subconscious or more likely, to the pure, calculated songwriting that went into the piece.
“Raven Kings” is a solid, laudable accomplishment, held back only by the vague concept that it could have been more forceful. For all the album’s punch, even including the dark, brooding monotone of “I Am the Answer,” there’s a sense that the volume knob is only set to halfway. That isn’t to say that Engel’s production needs to be part of the loudness war, but only to suggest that the drums could have been more pronounced, the vocals could have been a shade edgier, so on and so forth.
The good news is that nothing is mechanically wrong with Engel or with “Raven Kings.” The building blocks of greatness are all present and indeed, the album is an enjoyable listen that’s worth spinning at least once just to hear it. Engel has something here, and it’s going to be an interesting time finding out what they do with it.