Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: May 31st, 2023
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal
Sozos Michael – Vocals
Paul Templing – Guitars
James Cartwright – Bass
Christopher Bowes – Keyboards
Ben Turk – Drums
1. Incoming Transmission
2. Holy Flaming Hammer of Unholy Cosmic Frost
3. Imperium Dundaxia
4. Wasteland Warrior Hoots Patrol
5. Brothers of Crail
6. Fife Eternal
7. Sword Lord of the Goblin Horde
8. Vorpal Laserblaster of Pittenweem
9. Keeper of the Celestial Flame of Abernethy
10. Maleficus Geminus (Colossus Matrix 38B – Ultimate Invocation of the Binary Thaumaturge)
Out of the many bands to emerge from the recent trend of comedic power metal, British band Gloryhammer has remained my favorite over the years, as well as probably the most popular and well-known overall, due to their mix of fun, catchy music and epic, yet super comedic and cheesy story-telling, completed by the excellent lead character Angus Mcfife. When I first heard vocalist Thomas Winkler had left the band, I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d be interested in hearing future releases, or if the band would even be able to continue because his performance as Angus Mcfife was such a crucial part of the band’s sound. However, in 2022 the band released the standalone single “Fly Away”, featuring new vocalist Sozos Michael and I was immediately swept back into their fantastical take on Dundee, as well as their brand of epic comedic power metal. The band’s previous album, Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex, was an absolute masterpiece, so regardless of who was or wasn’t in the band, I wasn’t sure it could be topped. After giving their newly released fourth full-length release Return to the Kingdom of Fife several listens, I’m still not sure I’d say it surpasses its predecessor, but it’s certainly on par, and is easily one of the best power metal albums of the year so far!
Fans will be divided on whether or not Michael fits in as well as Winkler did, and the vocals are sure to be one of the most talked-about aspects of the album. Before I get further into that, though, I’ll just say that ignoring the lineup change, the overall sound and feel of the band remains largely the same as ever: This is still just as much a light-hearted, cinematic symphonic power metal album as ever, featuring a story that continues where the previous album left off, while moving to a different period, and if anything it takes the Sci-Fi elements further than before, with lasers, robots, time travel, cloning and all kinds of other craziness going on. While the music is easily enjoyable on a song-by-song basis, focusing on the music and ignoring the lyrics, I found once I started following along with the lyrics and trying to fully make sense of the story, it only got better from there. The concept is as silly as ever, but it’s all very well put together, very entertaining, with lots of twists and turns, and it makes very effective use of narration, with different characters popping in to speak at various points during most tracks, blending in perfectly with the music so it never throws the listener off or becomes distracting. One particular highlight is on “Wasteland Warrior Hoots Patrol”, where one of the characters gives an epic speech, immediately leading into an incredible guitar/saxophone solo, and the sequence shows how to perfectly mix narration and music in such a way that it keeps the listener fully engaged.
Musically, this is a very keyboard-driven album, as expected, with the keys often leading the way through most tracks, alternating between being atmospheric, playful, cinematic, and at times quite cheesy, but it’s always used effectively to set the tone. Symphonic elements are also quite prominent, with some tracks using them more sparingly, while others go all out for a cinematic feel, complete with some epic choral vocals and sweeping orchestral arrangements. Guitars aren’t always at the front of the sound, but when they are they’re fantastic, with some very heavy, crunchy riffs at times, as well as some neo-classical shredding, some more melodic guitar work and plenty of fantastic, very technically impressive solos. Drums are often fast and furious, and they’re especially impressive during those sections, though there are also times when they’re more laid back, to fit some of the slower tracks, as well as times when they have a bit of a marching beat to them. Production is excellent as always, with everything sounding great. Songwriting is strong across the board, with a good amount of variety, as the album moves fluidly from one track to another, some tracks being heavy and intense, while others are upbeat and energetic without ever quite being at full power, and of course, there’s some more dialed back, slower paced tracks, as well as a mammoth 12-minute album closer. Everything is excellent, both musically and lyrically, and while I do have a few personal favorites, this is an extremely addicting album to listen to from start to finish on repeat.
As mentioned earlier in the review, the most talked about aspect of the album is likely to be the vocals, just because Thomas Winkler was such a major part of the band’s sound, with his signature deep, heroic vocals. Well, right off the bat I’ll say Sozos Michael’s voice isn’t as distinctive as his predecessor, instead sounding somewhat like Christopher Bowed does with Alestorm, except with much more range and a much smoother delivery. Some may be thrown off a bit, but I took little time to adjust to his vocals, and after giving the album several listens I’ve grown quite fond of him. His approach is a bit more diverse, doing a great job of utilizing both his high and mid-range quite effectively, with his upper register being especially impressive at times. He brings a lot of power to the table, as well as a ton of energy, and while it’s not as noticeable as it was with Winkler, he can be very dramatic at times, which helps with the storytelling. Choral vocals and especially narration feel more prominent than ever before, which helps make the transition to a new vocalist work out better than it otherwise could have, and as I said earlier, the narration in particular is some of the absolute best I’ve ever experienced on a metal album, being equal parts epic, dramatic, intense and hilarious.
The overall sound and feel of the album remain as impressive as ever, but as always, songwriting is one of the most important aspects. Thankfully, that’s yet another area where Return to the Kingdom of Fife fully delivers, both on a song-by-song level, as well as on a conceptual level, absorbing the whole album in one sitting and appreciating the narrative. Unsurprisingly, the album begins with a very brief intro track, featuring bits of distorted narration, as well as some light orchestral music. Following that, the album kicks off in style with the not-at-contradictory-sounding “Holy Flaming Sword of Unholy Cosmic Frost”.Jokes aside, this track is an absolute banger, and is the kind of upbeat, epic opener fans of the band would expect, with keys and orchestras leading the way, along with frantic drums, while the guitars are heavy in bursts, but never fully kick in until the solo section, which goes hard. The track isn’t overly heavy or as fast-paced as some of the other tracks, but the chorus in particular is quite intense, as well as very catchy, while the narration is used effectively in bursts throughout the track.
Next is “Imperium Dundaxia”, a more mid-paced track, with some very heavy guitar work during the verses, as well as longer bits of narration to help set the tone for what’s to come. The music has a slightly dark feel to it, with the guitars being heavy and thick, while the keys have an atmospheric feel to them, and the orchestral elements are dialed up, with the chorus, in particular, being fantastic. Michael mostly uses his low to mid register throughout the track and sounds excellent. It’s not one of the more overly fun tracks on the album, but it has a lot going on musically, while the vocals and narration do a fantastic job of telling the story. One of the biggest standout tracks is “Wasteland Warrior Hoots Patrol”, an upbeat, trance-infused track that has a very strong use of trance keys to give it a bit of a bouncy feel, though there’s still enough force and power in the guitars to keep it fully in power metal territory. It moves at a moderate pace throughout, with a slight upbeat feel through the verses before fully going all out during one of the catchiest and most fun courses on the album, and it’s sure to be popular with live crowds. I already mentioned my favorite part of the track earlier, which comes towards the end, where some epic narration leads into perhaps the best instrumental section on the album, with guitars and saxophones mixed perfectly.
The tempo drops off for “Brothers of Crail”, one of the most epic, cinematic tracks on the album, with a ton of atmosphere. It moves at a rather slow pace and while it doesn’t have any folk elements, the synths and orchestra are used similarly to how they’re used in Alestorm, so fans of that band should especially love this track. There’s a nice mix between that and heavy guitars throughout the verses, while the chorus simply goes hard with some of the most epic choir vocals on the album, backing up Michael effectively. The track isn’t very heavy, but it has a distinct feel to it, and it’s one of the more epic and symphonic tracks on the album. Next is “Fife Eternal”, the shortest full song on the album, as well as perhaps the most classic power metal-sounding track, with a nice balance between keys, orchestral elements, and melodic guitar work, while Michael does a nice job of utilizing his range throughout, hitting some of his highest notes throughout the verses, getting quite intense at points. It’s another very fun, epic, and catchy track, with a super addictive chorus, and it stays fully engaging the whole way through.
Once again, the pace drops off a bit for “Sword Lord of the Goblin Horde”, which becomes a bit of a tongue twister at points, due to how the lyrics are arranged during the chorus. It’s another very cinematic track, with a strong focus on narration and story-telling, as well as one of the lighter, more melodic tracks on the album, with some very nice melodic guitar work throughout, accompanied by some very light keys and symphonic elements. The chorus is extremely catchy and addictive, while the rest of the track is more atmospheric, but still manages to stay fully entertaining throughout. The highlight of the track comes in the second half, with a very explosive, speedy instrumental section following some epic narration, and then the final run through the chorus is absolute magic. The hits continue with “Vorpal Laserblaster of Pittenweem”, perhaps the fastest-paced track on the album, with very frantic drumming throughout, mixed with bursts of heavy guitar work, some neo-classical shredding, and some light keyboards. It’s a very light, fun, and catchy song with a heroic feel for most of its duration, up until the end where a major plot development leads to a dark turn, ending the track on an ominous note. Lead single “Keeper of the Celestial Flame of Abernethy” is yet another one of my favorites, thanks to some very epic, bouncy keys which give the track a bit of a disco feel, but once again, the guitars are heavy enough to keep it in the full metal territory. The verses are quite fun and upbeat, while the chorus is one of the catchiest and most melodic on the album, with some fantastic choral vocals, the lyrics are fantastic, and yeah, in case I didn’t mention it already, that main disco beat sure is infectious!
Closing out the album is, ummm, deep breath time, “ Maleficus Geminus (Colossus Matrix 38B – Ultimate Invocation of the Binary Thaumaturge)”. Yeah, that sure is a real mouthful, and not at all easy to repeat! Regardless, though, it’s a mammoth 12-minute epic, and it’s easily the highlight of the entire album. I thought for sure the band wouldn’t be able to top “The Fires of Ancient Cosmic Destiny”, but I thought wrong, as this track is an absolute masterpiece from start to finish. I won’t break down the whole track, both because there’s so much here that it would take multiple paragraphs to do it full justice, as well as because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Suffice it to say, this is a very packed 12 minutes, with absolutely no wasted time, plenty of tempo changes, tons of momentum shifts in the plot, and just lots of all-around chaos and pure fun. Even ignoring the epic lyrics and narration (which is fantastic, and at its all-time best on this track), from a purely musical and compositional level, a lot is going on here, with some of the heaviest, most explosive passages on the entire album, mixed in with tons of more cinematic sections, some glorious melodic power metal sections, and an extremely intense finale. There’s very little calm to be found, as the track moves at a relentless pace throughout, packing in as much as it possibly can, while still having a couple of chorus-like sections. Overall, it’s a phenomenal track, easily my favorite by Gloryhammer to date, and probably somewhere in my top 10 power metal tracks of all time, it’s that good!
At first, I was a bit nervous about the prospects of Gloryhammer, following their split with Thomas Winkler, but somehow they have managed to emerge from everything as strong as ever, delivering another fantastic comedic symphonic power metal concept album in Return to the Kingdom of Fife. Some fans may take time to adjust to the new vocals, but I think Sozos Michael fits in wonderfully, while the increased use of choral vocals and the narration goes a long way toward making everything work perfectly. Both musically and lyrically this album is an absolute banger the whole way through, and as always, it leaves me anxiously awaiting to see what the band will come up with next. Highly recommended for any power metal fan, especially those who enjoy humorous lyrics and entertaining concept albums. Anyone who didn’t like previous Gloryhammer albums likely won’t be converted by this album, but for anyone else, this is a must-hear, as the band continues to be as strong as ever.
Written by: Travis Green
My Global Mind – Staff Writer
Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.