Sons of Kings, Emersion: A Cosmic Inheritance

Self-released in a glossy digipak, the two-song Emersion full-length from Finnish four-piece Sons of Kings revels in expansive heavy psychedelic jamming that – while there’s little groundbreaking about it on the surface – effectively conveys some of the finest elements in modern European psych and distinguishes itself through emergent musical personality. Washes of ambient guitar would seem to align the instrumental release, which is Sons of Kings’ second behind a 2010 self-titled, with the likes of Red Sparowes and others in the realm of post-Isis explorations, but that’s hardly the crux of what the band have on offer. Both “Ancestry” (18:30) and “Inheritor Fumes” (17:30) delight in mellotron, extra percussion and layered interplay, still leaving room in the second half of the latter track for a soundscaping build that’s ambient and evocative enough to be legitimately cinematic. That section is about as un-jammed as Sons of Kings (who just happen to be named after my favorite The Hidden Hand song) get, even after Samu Montonen’s drums kick back in and J.P. Saari tops the ending progression with a surprisingly bluesy solo, and in that, the opening sequence of “Ancestry” is echoed, as Emersion begins with similar soundscaping, albeit shorter as the drums, guitar and bass fade up amid the bed of synth. The band boasts two bassists – Ville Virtanen and Juuso Jalava – but neither jam is overdone in terms of low end. Likely this is due to the level of exploration or perhaps even the number of strings Jalava is working with (reportedly six, unless I’ve read the bio incorrectly), but in any case, the considerable addition of synth and other effects acts as a balance among all the instruments. In the vein of a more spaced-out early My Sleeping Karma, but perhaps with some less Eastern inflection, Sons of Kings put themselves in a position to be heavy psych forerunners of the European north, and the natural sense of improvisation they bring to “Ancestry” and “Inheritor Fumes” speaks to a focus on live performance that lies at the core of the band. They’re jammers. They jam.

The album is interesting to think of in terms of lineage as a thematic. That is, even unto their name (the reference notwithstanding), Sons of Kings are bringing out an idea of familial rite – the son of a king inherits a kingdom. So too do “Ancestry” and “Inheritor Fumes” play into a notion of past/passed relatives, the latter with not so much the kind of reverence as the band’s moniker as much as an underlying cynicism; inheriting fumes implies either that you stink, you get nothing, or both. Without lyrics or some other form of manifesto in the digipak, it’s harder to really know what Sons of Kings are driving at with these ideas – and how the title Emersion factors in; could be the idea of arising out of both the past itself and the nuclear culture of one’s own family – but it may be that the theme isn’t fully developed or that I’m just not seeing it. In either case, the music makes fitting complement to such musings, meandering wisps of guitar/bass trails sustained and given ground by Montonen’s deft cymbal work and a flowing stream of low end. Smoke on the water, if you want an image for it. In its latter moments, “Ancestry” rounds out with ample tonal sweetness, the guitar and bass ringing out while the mellotron takes up as almost part of the rhythm section in being a cohesive element after about 16 minutes in, its melody also serving to tie the piece together. I don’t know who’s playing it, but whichever member it is, their contributions make Sons of Kings’ sound all the richer, giving Emersion an individual feel that even plays into the themes of inheritance and ancestry noted above – the mellotron is at this point an inherently classic sound, meant to invoke or state an allegiance with classic heavy or progressive rock. As “Inheritor Fumes” gets underway with room echoes in spaced out guitar notes and more active drumming, Sons of Kings seem to be delighting in the moment, making it up as they go along and relying on what proves to be an engaging chemistry between the players to convey contemplation in motion and a subtly driving build.

“Inheritor Fumes” essentially works in two parts. But for the generally unstructured nature of both these tracks, I’d almost be tempted to split it into component piece, but with something as open as Emersion is anyway, it seems arbitrary. If a song can be an 18-minute jam, it can be an 18-minute jam with two distinct movements and builds – it really doesn’t make a difference. And as the first section winds down, it’s the mellotron that provides the closing thoughts after the other instruments drop out, once again a defining aspect of Sons of Kings’ sound on their second album. There is a moment of silence enough to make you think the record is over before a rumble provides the starting point for the second build in “Inheritor Fumes” – perhaps that’s the “fumes” part – but because of both the length and the substance of the second section, it makes more sense to me to think of it as an extension of the initial progression rather than a secret track or something like that. If it was two minutes hidden at the end, maybe, but the way it works up from nothing to a darker, more droning fullness is worth more consideration than it might appear on paper. So too it goes for Emersion as a whole, which proves to be as much fun to think about as it is to actually hear. I guess that says something about the provocative nature of the music Sons of Kings are making, that it leads one’s thoughts to wander even as the guitars and bass seem to be doing precisely that, but that’s not to take away from the substance of the songs itself, which is richly psychedelic and flowing with a laid back vibe that remains tonally and emotionally weighted. They make it easy to dig into what they do, and particularly with the painted artwork that Saari provides, one might feel like they’re standing in the presence of something much larger than one’s own self, be it washes of mellotron melody and fuzz or even maybe a royal heritage. All the more fitting, then, is the moniker Sons of Kings. Whatever the four-piece decide to do next, Emersion is sure to bestow a righteous sonic inheritance.

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