Album Review :
A Feast For Kings - Hell On Earth

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Artist: A Feast For Kings
Album: Hell on Earth
Label: Independent
Release Date: 04.17.14
Reviewer: Lee Brown

Track Listing: 

  1. React/Regret
  2. Idee Fixe
  3. Separation
  4. Brittle Spirit
  5. Consequence (feat. Jake Anthony of The Earth Laid Bare)
  6. Living Deceased

Over the last year or two I have waxed eloquent several times about the impending crash of the overall metalcore genre. Just as popular blended styles such as rapcore had their moment in the sun, only to fade into obscurity, metalcore seems at times to be in the throws of cardiac arrest. In fact, as we’ve mentioned in our coverage before, August Burns Red’s latest album Rescue and Restore was largely focused on “saving metalcore from itself.” So, over the last year you’ve seen bands stray more and more from the genre by either changing their sound (as in Righteous Vendetta) or by incorporating various other genre influences, such as an incorporation of 80’s metal sounds.

In fact, in our recent interview with Demon Hunter’s lead singer, Ryan talked about how he “doesn’t understand” metal today and wishes that it would just return to its roots and sing about death more. In DH’s latest album (which was phenomenal, by the way) this ethos was taken to heart as the band stripped down their sound to something of a more classic or doom metal experience. And Demon Hunter has a point. Extremist is a return to form for Demon Hunter that moves forward by stripping things down to their raw and exposed core in a powerful way and that makes for great metal.

Enter the counter-argument. With A Feast For Kings we find a genre bending exploration of metalcore and/or progressive hardcore that is teaming with so many sub-genres and divergent styles that its almost like they took the exact opposite of Clark’s seasoned advice. But, here’s the thing; it works. In fact, it works powerfully. Hell On Earth is an explosive album that zigs and zags into genre influences seamlessly, somehow without ever falling through the floor into utter cacophony.

In many ways, it is the opposite of “stripped down,” as the band includes strings, keys, and a whole host of previously mentioned (sub-)genre changes that sometimes happen several times in the same song. But, again, it works. As I’ve mentioned with a few other bands who have explored their options of adding C-4 to the cages of the metalcore genre and blowing it wide open, when done correctly (which I would argue this album largely is), metalcore proves that it still has some life in it.

I first encountered A Feast for Kings on a metal sampler we posted about (and I can no longer find links to, sorry) several months ago. Their song “React/Regret” was the first track that played on the embedded stream, and with one listen, I was immediately hooked. There was just something immediately engaging and powerful about the track from the very first orchestral moment. Though I still have not listened to any other band from that sampler, AFFK has worked their way into my new addictions.

In many ways, the things that drew me in with “React/Regret” held on to me throughout Hell on Earth. Though it is arguably the finest track on the overall EP, the pattern established here holds throughout. For the most part, each song moves dynamically through genre moments that at once bring bands like Facedown Record’s Colossus to mind (such as the initial gutturals) and in the next remind of once forgotten heroes like Dead Poetic. The effect is something unique and engaging that doesn’t quite go as far down the rabbit hole as, say, A Hope for the Dying did with Aletheia, but still brings a delicate balance of exploration, power, and passion. The effect is something of an early signature sound for the band that should resonate well with any heavy music fan.

At their essence, it seems to me that this is an important thing to have accomplished for AFFK. Scanning their Facebook page one might find this disclaimer;

 “In a genre that has been saturated with bands attempting to capture the sound and success of bands like UnderOath and The Devil Wears Prada, originality has become tough to find. A Feast For Kings has broken the mold with a fresh sound of hard-hitting Metal interlaced with beautiful melodic moments and a sound that separates them from the rest of the pack. Driven by a passion for music and a love of Jesus Christ, A Feast For Kings takes aim at sharing their passion in their faith at every opportunity. Through an energetic live show, AFFK spreads the hope they have found in their Savior through every situation.

AFFK certainly is not a retread of UnderOath or other worn sounds. They blaze their own trail. In many ways, they are what August Burns Red recently laid down the gauntlet for bands to be; they are unique, passionate, heavy, and something entirely their own. If Hell on Earth is a taste of things to come, fans will certainly be left craving more.

Album Breakdown: Hell on Earth begins with “React/Regret,” a song that has been commercially available for some time now as a single. Since I explored aspects of the song above, and since I am sharing the embed for you to jam out to, I won’t go too deeply into this track other than to say that it seems to reveal the band’s overall DNA in amazing ways. The track includes some melodic and even orchestral soundscapes that are weaved through the background and juxtaposed nicely by the guttural vocals… and yet they gel perfectly with the brutality that should contradict one another in their very nature. Lyrically, “React/Regret” also begins to explore some deep themes surrounding hypocrisy and faith that make the song very open, honest, and relatable. All in all, “React/Regret” is a brutally powerful and engaging song.

“Idee Fixe” follows and immediately shows off even more diversity as it incorporates a little electronic beat into the forefront of the track before dropping into subsequent brutality. The gutturals on this track follow the typical genre pattern (as do the clean vocals that follow), however they are executed superbly. In fact, “Idee Fixe” is the perfect track to follow the monstrous opener as it manages to hold its own and explore new and interesting territory. Honest and vulnerable lyrics continue, as well, as the band screams out, “You’re the only One that hasn’t left. You’re the only One that I have left… let me take the hit for the last time.” The themes explored here fit well with Everything in Slow Motion’s arc in Phoenix and certainly also the similar trek walked lyrically in Colossus’s Time and Eternal.

“Separation” continues the trend of bringing interestingly layered sounds to the forefront of the song. In this case, a chiming sound takes the forefront of the opening moments with subtle percussions that sound like trash can drumming play to the background… before once again succumbing to brutality. Thematically, “Separation” explores the fallout of divorce on a young child, and in this the brutality is perfectly matched to the feeling of that child’s confusion and rage warring in his head. Overall, “Separation” is the most straightforward hardcore track found on the album, though there are many flourishes. These include a nu-metal inspired riff that underscores the lighter moments of the track and some eerily poignant tinkling on the piano, among others. The “voices” near the end of the track speak the title line “you made this hell on earth,” pointing to the evolving story of brokenness and betrayal.

“Brittle Spirit” begins more somberly by taking the piano elements from the last song and playing them in the foreground before breaking into a softer and more intimate opening. The guitar work is certainly the highlight of “Brittle Spirit” as it is skillfully layered throughout, though the track itself is strong in many other areas. The keys are incorporated well throughout, for example, and the softer elements of the track are offset by some of the heaviest gutturals yet… before breaking into a chorus that is more punk ballad in tone. Fans of In the Midst of Lions will gravitate towards the heavier moments of this track, while the repeated screaming of “you are not alone” will bind together anyone who has experienced the pains of a broken home.

“Consequence” features the only guest appearance of the EP; Jake Anthony of The Earth Laid Bare. The track begins in the most straightforward heavy manner possible, and this effect is carried throughout the track creating a straight-laced hardcore track through and through. The theme of betrayal and fallout mirrors the title of the song, showing the consequences of a broken past (and likely the broken home exposed in “Separation”). In terms of genre exploration, “Consequence” once again incorporates keys and a varied instrumentation (especially leading into its conclusion) that brings a sort of Nightmare Before Christmas feel to it.

The album closes with “Living Deceased.” As a final EP track, the song is fitting and ties together the story thread and musical stylings. The opening lyric, “I can’t believe I let you in… for so long…” shows the progression from the pain of “Separation” but leads into a militant hope. “I am not a mistake. I have been relieved from the grip you had on me. I am no longer living deceased.”

In terms of overarching story, Hell on Earth is no typical EP. Though it doesn’t feel like a true “concept” album, it follows much more closely to a long-form album in introducing a problem in the first track, swinging into the second act with “Separation” and closing things out succinctly with “Living Deceased.”

Musicianship: Hell On Earth follows more closely after recent efforts by A Hope for the Dying and Ark of the Covenant by including many and various genre influences, yet it stands on its own. The album is more distinctly metalcore meets progressive metal than those two, but each of the three albums are similar in that they blend together styles and influences that make them have a depth and expanse to them. All of the instruments hit just the right sounds together to provide that deep experience and play nicely to the tone and timbre of the lyrics. Subtle flourishes, often merely playing in the background, provide additional atmospheric moments.

Lyrical/Spiritual Content: Though AFFK is adamant about their faith, Hell on Earth is more an exploration of brokenness than it is a resonating path to the cross. In this, it is engaging, open, and honest. The listener will not be beat over the head with the band’s faith, though the weight of His glory is apparent. If this were a full album, I would love to have seen a full resolution of hope, but the glimmer of hope in “Living Deceased” is more than enough to chew on.

Lasting Value: I have had this album much longer than I often get with releases and have often come back to it between other pressing assignments. Each time, I have found myself immersed more and more. For an EP length experience, I feel this has a great chance of lasting against the competition. With Hell on Earthone of the greatest things I see is an excitement growing in me for more. I can’t wait for their next album, but I am ever ready to dive back into this one for some more melodic brutality.

Overall: A Feast for Kings is a long way towards owning a sound all their own. Though there are certainly similarities to bands like Colossus and Ark of the Covenant mixed with just a bit of Dead Poetic, they seem merely surface similarities at best. AFFK is developing a sound that builds off of the metalcore and progressive hardcore mold, but adds flourishes of other sub-genres that make the experience their own. Fans of heavy music will be immediately gripped by “React/Regret,” and the rest of the album simply will not let them go until the end.

Hell on Earth is an engaging look at the fallout of a broken home and a restoration to long-sought after hope. In this, the lyrics are pointed and powerful… and likely will hit home with many listeners. Though it is EP-sized, the album pulls off a long-form arc both musically and lyrically, making Hell on Earth more than just another EP sampler before a full length can be produced.

RIYL: Colossus, Dead Poetic, A Past Unknown, Earth Laid Bare, Ark of the Covenant