Kull
Exile

Warning: I am going to say the words Bal-Sagoth, a record breaking number of times in this review…

Man, I haven’t had this much anticipation for an album in a looooooong time. Why?

Well friends, Let me tell you of an Age undreamed of….

Back in the 1990s a band called Bal-Sagoth arose from the ebony spires of Yorkshire, England. With themes and lyrics based on Robert E Howard’s Hyboria and thusly Conan the barbarian (my favorite literary character), and fronted by an enigmatic, over the top sword wielding front-man, Lord Byron and his verbose lyrics. The band was a unique, but divisive symphonic black metal band whose first three (of 6) albums A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria (1995), personal favorite Starfire Burning upon the Ice Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule (1996), and Battle Magic (1998), , I’d dare to rate as classics in the annals of British metal, and 3 of my favorite albums of all time.

However, after those 3 albums things went a bit dour as Lord Byron went away from sloe eyed maidens and Stygian sorcerers, and ventured into Space (1999s The Power Cosmic, still a good album), and then 2 albums that sort of saw the band as a bit of an afterthought in 2000s Atlantis Ascendant and 2006s Lovecraftian Chthonic Chronicles, and Lord Byron became a bit of a caricature. Still, the band remained one of my very favorites of the 90s to this day.

Why do I tell you this tale? Well, a few years ago there were murmurings from the East, in the craggy mountains of Cimmeria ( or Sheffield..), that 3 original members of Bal Sagoth, brothers Jonny and Chris Maudling, who were responsible for most of Bal Sagoth‘s song writing and between them played drums guitars, bass and the all important keyboards over the band’s tenure as well as original guitarist Alistair McLatchy (playing bass here) and newer drummer Paul Jackson, had formed a band called Kull (also a Robert E Howard Character). And so finally, here is the debut from Kull, and for those looking for a replacement for the on Hiatus Bal Sagoth, this is for you. Bal-Sagoth were one of the few bands that never really had any imitators or clones, but Kull is exactly what you’d expect from 3/5 of the original lineup.

Yeah this sounds like Bal-Sagoth….. and its fucking great.

According to the Maudling brothers (who are  responsible for all the compositions in Kull), much of the material on Exile was actually meant to be the next Bal-Sagoth album, and astute Bal-Sagoth fans will easily identify many moments, riffs, spoken words and synth breaks that could easily have been on any Bal-Sagoth release. Of course, the fact Jonny Maudling’s bombastic keyboards are in the same style, and vocalist Tarkan Alp (who served with Bal-Sagoth as session guitarist and vocalist as well as death metal act Dyscaphia), delivers the same epic, verbose tales of warriors and battles as Lord Byron ( there were actually times I thought Lord Byron was making a guest appearance) complete with deep narrated voice (though never as over used or cheesy as Lord Byron was towards the end of Bal-Sagoth‘s run) , although he has a more powerful barbaric growl and black metal rasp.  Even though there is is a clear delineation between ‘new’ songs and songs that were meant for Bal-Sagoth, the album was recorded and produced at the same studio as Chthonic Chronicles, so it even sounds the same in its guitar tone and overall production, and so the whole affair is truly a satisfying ‘comeback’ album,  just under another moniker

The thing is, the album actually starts off a bit shaky. After the intro “Imperial Dawn”, a Bal-Sagoth staple, the first track “Set Nakt Heh”, clearly a newer iteration, didn’t really do anything for me with its more choppy, broken up pacing and stuttering riffs, but as the song wanes, you can start to hear it, the clarion call of battle as second track “Vow of the Exiled”, delivers the first truly grin inducing, Bal-Sagoth ish moments of the album with a wonderfully emotive spoken chanted word , then an early favorite track, “A Summoning to War” will make fans grin with its rousing opening and epic gallop that’s instantly recognizable as Bal-Sagoth.

“Hordes Ride” is one of the album’,s weaker tracks, but Alp really shines, truly owning the vocals and carrying the music. On “An Ensign Consigned” , another standout Bal-Sagoth sounding Romanic track, he tells the tale of a solider, and a cool,  short lived power metal choral clean vocal break just elevates it. “Pax Imperialis ” continues the excellent soldiering theme, with a killer narration of the battle at hand with a well used female choir as a back drop, a new addition to the symphonic arsenal. There is a bit of a lull (another staple for Bal-Sagoth albums..) with the sterner “By Lucifers’ Crown” and militant march “Of Stone and Tears”,  which I’m guessing is newer material, but still enjoyable, before the album’s longest cut “Aeolian Supremacy” delivers a slower, somber track and really sums up the band’s overall sound mixing with older Bal-Sagoth throes, and even a bit of a Ennio Morricone vibe. Closer “Of Setting Suns and Rising Moon”, delivers the album’s sternest cut with ample blasting amid the slightly Middle Eastern vibe.

Exile is probably the album that should or could have come out between Battle Magic and The Power Cosmic, and the band has done well to forge their own entity but also acknowledge their past and embrace the obvious Bal-Sagoth ties.Heck, slap another 15 words to each song title and change the logo, and no one would bat an eyelid. Ultimately,  it’s the only recent album I’ve listened to 15 -20 straight times from start to finish and not just for review purposes, just for sheer nostalgic enjoyment.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
April 29th, 2019

Comments

  1. Commented by: Gabaghoul

    How was this not even on my radar? I still enjoy Atlantis Ascendant (Starfire is my favorite) but Chthonic was dull and I thought that was the last we’d hear from Bal-Sagoth. This sounds great – eager to check it out!!


  2. Commented by: gabaghoul

    “Vow of the Exiled” WOW. This album sounds exactly like an updated Bal-Sagoth album and yes I even thought it was Lord Byron too. Never thought we’d hear another one of these.


  3. Commented by: Jimmmmmny

    A whole record bout Kevin sorbos kull the conqueror? Sign me up!!


  4. Commented by: Belial

    Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.


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