ARES KINGDOM – In Darkness at Last (2022)REVIEW

The coppered sirens in warning have bent into irreparable gnarl, their incessant horn cycling in degenerate warp and wheezing out a deathlike bleat as Cernunnos‘ animus meets its fiery end. Signs were extant but only in the pockets of night’s sky out of civilizations’ reach, plain to see above as it shone worrisome eyelet down through clouds of intensifying smoke and disaster, news of cataclysm hinted without tact through blood-scented winds and the unending stench of burning hair and brush that’d alternated in waves for years. Only wide-eyed, pants-shitting desperation remains of our humanity, the screams of barely sentient herds coughing and fleeing in too late efforts to fend off a fitting death for self-obssessed mankind. Pardon my pornographic musing over the endtime scene, especially if the imagined cataclysmic end of all life isn’t the central point of focus on this fifth and latest full-length album from Kansas City, Missouri-based thrashing black/death metal trio Ares Kingdom, these too-rare spikes of truly violent extreme metal mastery are seemingly built to rile and incite. ‘In Darkness at Last‘ accomplishes many things within its forty minute run, feats of distempered authenticity, literate mastery and keenest insight yet the most profound achievement which still rings accumulated in mind is their timeless wielding of memorable extreme metal songwriting, unforgettable songs delivered with personality explosive enough to leave a mark.

The only thing that’d kinda bugged me about my review of ‘By the Light of Their Destruction‘ back in 2019 was that it’d unintentionally (yet repeatedly) suggested Ares Kingdom were simply an extreme thrash metal group, the tone of the analysis aiming to suggest that the root of their evil mid-to-late 80’s extreme metal influenced sound was bound to a certain impetus which could be reduced… at least ’til that record crossed the line completely, blurring the edges with a rawly revelator production sound that’d been damned exciting at the time, and still reads as such. The lines supposedly traceable between black, death and thrash metal become arbitrary when we begin considering influence from Slaughter Lord, Hellhammer, early Bathory and the untouchable genius of ‘Pleasure to Killet al. that’d feed into the cauldron of the trio, but the point intending to be made a few years ago was that the previous record from the band revived an extra measure of brutality and obstruction which we could point most directly toward on ‘Return to Dust‘ (2006) for precedence to some degree and in droves on certain 90’s Order From Chaos releases in their past. It was still a “heavy metal” album at heart (see: “Burn, Antares (Scorpius Diadem)”) but I suppose there was more historicity set in stone than I’d communicated. This addendum more-or-less serves as a generalized history of the band, too, but I’d encourage familiarity with their previous releases under this banner alongside their resumes dating back to the late 80’s.

Ista quidem vis est! — If we can consider the previous album from Ares Kingdom a fresh bout of inspiration, or, a new beginning of sorts then we will have to treat ‘In Darkness at Last‘ as a step beyond refinement and expected mastery unto a nigh legendary event, a truly inspired act of over-the-top natural disaster inflicted upon unsuspecting fandom and certainly one of the most passionately barked and knifed-at works released this year. It shouldn’t be surprising that their well-established station would accomplish but the album itself may very well prove shockingly exemplar, classic with a certain surety extreme metal rarely manages a trait which old heads will recognize immediately. You’ll get an inkling something is afoot within the swaying grind of the guitar-bombing into track “Radiant” but it is the all too real nuke of “Stormbringer Hyades (Rain Down Darkness)” that sets the tone, the pace, and the riff count high to start. Where thrash meets death, speed metal (and metalpunk by evolutionary proxy) meets black metal these folks have crafted their own stoic station with a sonic philosophy I’ve always read as aiming for character, denying perfection or any sort of neutering balance which makes for a sound as idealistic, refined in ideation yet capable of barbarism as it is. As I’d implied earlier this not only applies to the very real, pub-sized live feeling production values but also to songcraft; The effect is often as simple as an early Destruction, Messiah or even Slaughter (see: the last third of “Under Algol”) song wherein some manner of speed metal and hardcore punk function solders the connection between drummer and guitarist, leading to gymnastic riffs which cycle back to their point of impact and slot into structures which feature simple choruses as championed moments and complex verse runs shouted with enough force to shatter bones.

Speaking of bone-shattering shouts, the first thing anyone with at least one functional ear should notice while kicking into this record is that this might be one of the most brutal, completely irrational performances we’ve heard from vocalist/bassist Alex Blume (Perdition Temple) who manages to convey a passionate, believably furious extraction here that will go on unrivaled in my mind. I don’t even intend to exaggerate for effect here, the fact that he’s managed to articulate the elaborate, long considered strands of Chuck Keller‘s prose while delivering what must’ve been full-bodied take after take is absolutely the sort of insanity that inspires me year over year, rare as it becomes. It is the sort of performance that hits like a great riff, you should be inspired to shout along just as you might want to play along with a fantastic guitar part and the experience in tandem is a bit part of why this album has my mind threshing about in response to such a degree. In terms of the most memorable vocal parts beyond the opener “Aequinoctium” builds some intense momentum with its earlier ranting runs, “Rapacious” swerves between narrative phrase and its thrash-breakdown towards its penultimate moment, which’d stuck in mind and re-captured my attention with every listen. “A Wolf on the Fold” eventually crowns the record with its guitar trills and verse punctuating vocals whipping between its more sweeping melodic riffs, a very signature piece from the band which we find sparking off in a semi-melodic direction.

Though I could go on picking through my favorite riffs, praising the rhythm section a bit more, glowing over the meaning (astronomy, history, mythos, etc.) inserted into the lyrics, I understand these are pursuits and/or levels of interest most likely to be enjoyed by folks who already appreciate and connect with what Ares Kingdom do. What I will re-emphasize is that ‘In Darkness at Last‘ is standout — A spirited, inspired act willed by great energy and thought in such a way that it’s brutal conviction continues to floor me and… even without considering their apex 80’s extreme metal influenced craft and all of the catchy-ass riffs that smoke through each song on this record. Those who appreciate cruelty and tunefulness alike, classicism given an entirely signature/personalized spin, or just “riffs” then this’ll be one of the best options available this year. Couldn’t step away from this one without giving it a highest possible recommendation.

Highest possible recommendation. (100/100)

Rating: 10 out of 10.
TITLE:In Darkness at Last
LABEL(S):Nuclear War Now! Productions
RELEASE DATE:September 15th, 2022

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