The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum: In the Time of the Fifth Moon

Consolamentum is the fourth full-length from increasingly progressive UK-based doomers The Wounded Kings and also their debut on Candlelight Records. It’s also their most consistent album-to-album lineup in the band since 2010’s The Shadow over Atlantis (review here) followed 2008’s Embrace of the Narrow House debut with just the founding duo of guitarist/keyboardist Steve Mills and bassist/vocalist George Birch, who was out following The Wounded Kings‘ 2010 split with Cough, An Introduction to the Black Arts (review here), as Mills constructed a more complete lineup of the band that would be able to play live. The third album, 2011’s In the Chapel of the Black Hand (review here), arrived with a markedly quick turnaround considering that apart from Mills it was entirely new players involved — vocalist Sharie Neyland, drummer Myke Heath, bassist Jim Willumsen and guitarist Alex Kearney — and particularly with Neyland‘s haunting vocal resonance, tapped into dark elements of cult metal to coincide with three extended pieces the doom of which was complete and encompassing. On Consolamentum, all parties but Willumsen return, and though it’s somewhat ironic that with largely the same group they’d also have their longest break between records to date (three years), with Al Eliadis on bass and Chris Fielding producing, The Wounded Kings have created an album that feels like their most band-oriented work yet, recorded live and brimming with atmospheric density.

Like In the Chapel of the Black Hand, Consolamentum finds The Wounded Kings working with and around an extended trinity of songs. Opener “Gnosis” is the longest of the bunch (immediate points) at 13:20, and its complemented by the centerpiece title-track at 9:08 and the penultimate “The Silence” at 12:14. All three work at the hypnotic crawl one might expect from The Wounded Kings‘ past work — though “Gnosis” picks up toward the end and each seems to offer a payoff of its own — but there’s development evident not just in how well the five-piece work together over the course of Consolamentum‘s 47 minutes, but also in where they go. Each of the longer works is complemented by a shorter one, and as “Elige Magistrum” starts with a pickslide that such a perfect port of that from the beginning of Black Sabbath‘s “Into the Void” that I wondered at first if it might be a sample (it isn’t), it becomes clear that not only are The Wounded Kings reveling in the bleak, deep-running murk of their own tones and the ritual elements that Mills brings to tracks like “Lost Bride” with long-held Hammond notes, they’re also having fun doing it. Completely instrumental, “Elige Magistrum” (1:29) is essentially the band jamming on a riff. It just so happens that when The Wounded Kings do it, it sounds like the end of the world. The subdued “Space Conqueror” (2:23) follows “Consolamentum” and while the actual sound of it is minimalist and arguably the most brooding stretch on the record, it’s also called “Space Conqueror,” so, you know, it’s not without a sense of levity.

Closer “Sacrifice” (2:10) is something of an epilogue following the breadth and long-sustained ending of “The Silence,” Neyland‘s vocals ably, confidently providing Consolamentum with its theatrical peak, but it fits with the structure overall, and again, gives an image of The Wounded Kings enjoying playing in a room together. The real anomaly on the album is second track “Lost Bride,” which at just over six minutes and not-instrumental, belongs neither to one side or the other of the two methodologies otherwise present. Furthering the lumber that arises in “Gnosis” and melding classic doom riffing with a stunning entry of keys later in the track, its presence I attribute not only to the fact that it’s a quality song and the band wanted to include it on the album, but also that it’s there precisely because it makes the structure of Consolamentum more obscure, so that the album isn’t just playing short interludes and extended pieces off each other. The Wounded Kings had cuts of similar length on Embrace of the Narrow House, so while it’s something new for this lineup, it’s not necessarily out of character for Mills, and it’s easy to imagine that including “Lost Bride” as another example of the band enjoying what they’re doing, opening up a well-defined construction and essentially throwing a wrench into the gears they’ve themselves created. It’s not an accident, and “Lost Bride” isn’t out of place. Arguably the most straightforward doom on Consolamentum, it’s a fitting lead-in for the characteristically bizarre and otherworldly ambience to come as the long fade of “Elige Magistrum” gives way to that at the start of the title-track. Again, The Wounded Kings are having fun.

Maybe that’s where the title comes from, its Latin root meaning “encouragement” or “consolation” paired with the suffix “-um” to indicate a direct object, i.e., someone being consoled or encouraged. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it’s a believable narrative given what’s at work on Consolamentum‘s seven tracks, and the fact that The Wounded Kings returned to work with Fielding, who also helmed In the Chapel of the Black Hand also speaks to the development of a comfort level that might allow for the kind of relaxation from which such enjoyment of the process is born. That said, it’s worth emphasizing that Consolamentum is also unspeakably dark and that not only in “Gnosis,” the title-track and “The Silence,” but also in how all the material plays off varying aspects of the album’s persona, it’s the richest listening experience the band has concocted to date from any of its lineups. If it has lighthearted aspects to its titles or a sense of Mills and company digging what they’re doing, that does not come at the expense of atmosphere, and if anything, only adds to the urgency of this material. I had been looking forward to hearing Consolamentum as a fan of Mills‘ forward-thinking craft, and that’s evident as well in concert with the emerging dynamic of The Wounded Kings as a full band. Thus, Consolamentum is not only their most realized work in terms of being the sophomore outing from (most of) the lineup that appeared on In the Chapel of the Black Hand, pushing the ideas that album presented into a new stage of development, but also it sounds as fresh as a debut might and delivered with passion both for what it is and what The Wounded Kings might keep accomplishing going forward. It may at this point be an extended labor, but The Wounded Kings continue to sound like a band reborn, in their own energy and in how they reshape doomly convention to their dreary, consuming will.

The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum teaser

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Candlelight Records

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