“Between the cosmic wake of a thousand solar nightmares, chaos will reign eternal!”
Yeah, it’s silly. Let’s get this out right up front. If you
are familiar with Gloryhammer, you expect this. You have been looking forward
to this. But if, like me, you are new to this experience, it might be a bit
jarring at first. As a huge fan of Manowar, and even a fan of Alestorm (more on
that later), they seem to approach their narrative stories in a more general
sense than we have here with Gloryhammer. This is more akin to GWAR (which I am
also a huge fan of), where the characters and narrative drive the entire thing.
But GWAR has always been very tongue in cheek. This sounds as if no matter how
ridiculous it all seems, they are treating it like high art.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Legends From Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex is the third studio album from Gloryhammer, the brainchild of Christopher Bowes (AKA Zargothrax). Bowes may be a familiar name to some as one of the founders, and only continuous member, of Alestorm. And much like the earlier mentioned GWAR who toured as their own opening band, the X-Cops, in different costumes and playing different instruments, Christopher finished a tour last year doing just that, playing in both Alestorm and Gloryhammer each night. He is one busy (and very talented) guy.
The third album is a conceptual continuation of their first two outings. In Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife, our intrepid hero Angus McFife, Crown Prince of Fife (vocalist Thomas Winkler) had to face down undead unicorns and acquire three items of power to face Zargothrax, Dark Emperor of Dundee (keyboardist Bowes). The next album was Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards which brought us up to that fateful year, and we followed a descendent of our hero who faced off against the evil sorcerer after he arises from cryo sleep. Now, with the help of Sir Proletius, Grand Master of the Deathknights of Crail (guitarist Paul Templing), Ralathor, the Mysterious Submarine Commander of Cowdenbeath (drummer Ben Turk) and The Hootsman, Astral Demigod of Unst (bassist James Cartwright), all descendants of their earlier heroes, our champions face off against the evil of Zargothrax once more. Will an enchanted backpack and the power of the Hootsforce be enough for them to prevail?
The release is 10 tracks long and starts with an opener titled Into the Terrorvortex of Kor-Virliath (track 1, 1:18) which establishes that chaos shall reign eternal. A decent orchestral piece that builds toward the next song. Too short to really be more than what it is, an intro to the rest of the songs/story.
Our next track is The Siege of Dunkeld (In Hoots We Trust) (Track 2, 4:47). We get some pretty good payoff from the intro in this song. While the repeated chorus seems all very silly, it is sung with dead seriousness. The drums really stand out in this track, pumping the song along at a thunderous pace. At about three minutes in we get our first guitar solo of the album, and it is a wonderful hint of things to come. As a whole, this song really feels like an epic power anthem from beginning to end. Even the 80’s inspired keyboard arpeggio stuck in there and standing out like a neon sign seems to fit just right.
Next up is Masters of the Galaxy (Track 3, 4:25), which starts with some serious crunch on the guitar. The keyboard seems to evoke the sound of a Transformer taking on a new shape (I am noting a trend here). This song feels more like a straight forward metal song with a very late 80’s vibe to it. Think Kane Roberts era Alice Cooper and you aren’t far off. But as always, those drums just keep pumping and driving this song forward. The keyboards double the melody line with a horn section that gives this track volume and depth. Simple but very effective.
The next song is The Land of Unicorns (Track 4, 4:25). At first you hear the horn section and think it is way too bright for that blistering guitar. Then you remember this song is about a land of unicorns, so yeah that fits. This track is the first that really feels like a proper symphonic metal track. This track serves as a reminder that even at their silliest, even at their cheeriest, these guys can play their ass off. Something tells me many people will find this to be their least favorite track on the album. Others will think it is their favorite and one of the purest symphonic power metal songs of all time. Both are probably correct.
Power of the Laser Dragon Fire (Track 5, 5:06) kicks in next, and seems to take up right where the last song left off. Blistering guitars, more of that driving kick drum, but this one feels less cheery. It isn’t a dark song by any stretch (not sure they do dark songs), but less cheerful than the previous symphonic track, and this one is certainly symphonic as a horn or synth seems to be the primary melody through most of the track. But what stands out most, this is the first tack where the bass guitar seems to step up and become a major player. A deep rumble playing out a counter point to the kick drums, this also may likely be called by some their favorite track on this disc. Thus far, it is the most well-rounded song yet, firing on all cylinders.
Our next song is Legendary Enchanted Jetpack (Track 6, 4:18), and with a title like that, how can you really go wrong? Two things stand out in this track. One in a good way, and the other maybe not to everyone’s liking. The guitars jump right out front and center, with a good driving riff and the bass guitar steps back a bit, but you can still hear it ringing out more than the first few songs on the album. But also standing out is the medieval sounding horns in the first 20 seconds of the song. They are fine, but they seem to be fighting for space that doesn’t exist in this song. That tone changes as we get further into the song so it never seems to stand out again until a pre chorus break where they fit perfectly.
For those keeping notes at home, symphonic metal is hard to pull off. Horns and metal just don’t sonically want to play well together, and getting it right takes skill. These guys have that skill. So having a slight hiccup in there in no way detracts from how good this song, or even this album, is overall. But man, that horn.
Next we are hit in the face with a wall of guitar as the song Gloryhammer (Track 7, 5:00) kicks in. The horns ring through, but stay somewhat subtle letting this be a more straightforward power metal anthem. When the symphonic components do kick in more fully, they are used as an amazing accent to the guitar and vocal, widening those parts and giving them real depth. This track is their namesake, and they have created an anthem that should be closing out their concerts for years to come. Pure encore fuel.
Hootsforce (Track 8, 3:50) is up next, and shifts immediately back into synth/symphonic territory. I can’t express enough how much of a driving force the drums are on this album. While there seems to be some tonal shifts here and there, and some instruments tend to stand out or fall to the background of the mix, these drums just keep driving you forward. Never over played, never under used. This is another solid track, but at this point in the album, nothing stands out quite as much as those drums at this point.
The bass guitar steps up front again as Battle For Eternity (Track 9, 3:52) kicks in. This track is a bit sparser than the rest, with the guitar and bass chugging out in unison over more of that ever-present driving kick drum. The keys jump in and stand out in this track, but rarely alongside any other instrument. This is a well-balanced track with each instrument taking it’s lead in turn, and the guitar solo on this one is pretty fantastic. With breaks for each instrument, for vocals, this is likely to be an amazing song performed live, with opportunities for solos and audience engagement galore.
The last track on the album The Fires of Ancient Cosmic Destiny (Track 10, 12:00) is a song in five parts. The first drops us right into pure symphonic power metal at its finest. This section is “Dundaxian Overture”. At roughly two minutes and fifteen seconds, a chugging guitar and a sinister voice tell us we are now in “The Battle of Cowdenbeath”. There is some incredible 80’s style synth underlying this section, and the guitar keeps us moving forward.
Just before the five-minute mark, we slow things down a bit and our new hero descends into the fray with “Return of the Astral Demigod of Unst”. The chorused vocals really work in these sections, bringing the tale to an epic scale. Right before the eight-minute mark, we see that our hero has been done in by “The Knife of Evil”, and while victorious, he is also doomed. The guitars really let fly in this section, and we are building toward a climax.
At roughly ten and a half minutes we finally get to that conclusion, in the form of the “Transmission” section. Slow and somber, we move to pure orchestration, and then hear the sound of a modem. Yeah, for all you younger readers, that beeping noise is what the things that used to get us on slow ass internet used to sound like. And a message is sent via Morse Code. Is our hero done? Is the story complete? Something tells me not.
Taken as a whole, Legends From Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex is a pretty fantastic album. Sure, if you don’t like symphonic metal, it might not be your cup of tea. And as I said early on, it is most definitely silly. But for many metal fans, and perhaps many gamers, this is the perfect fusion of story and sound. This is a fine soundtrack for the next time you take your short rest to spend some hit dice, and let your Warlocks get their spell slots back.
BONUS: Remember when I said that Christopher Bowes was a busy guy? If you grab the Deluxe version of this disc, you get a second ten tracks, all symphonic versions of the ten album songs. Pretty fantastic stuff, and it really shows his compositional talents.
All told, if you are new to symphonic power metal, the story-driven narrative of Gloryhammer may not be to your liking. But the album is a fantastic release for the genre, and their musicianship stands on its own. If you are already a fan of the band, or if you crave the over the top character-driven themes of Manowar or GWAR, put over top-notch music, this release is right up your alley.