Devastatingly, the return of the prodigal son heralds the final statement from British Doom legends The Wounded Kings, the band recently having decided to split after twelve years of incredible creation. Visions in Bone (Spinefarm Records) is George Birch’s first album with the band since he returned to the fold two years ago, to the delight of those devotees who shunned the eerie chanteuse qualities of Sharie Neyland. “The Wanderer Returns…” Birch croons and snarls toward the mournful coda of opener ‘Beast’ as if the line was written for him, and with those recent announcements from the camp it’s a line that seems all the more poignant.
Unexpectedly, ‘Beast’ incorporates both Rock ‘n’ Roll and a Johnny Cash-like Country feel to the sinister Low-end groove. The subtle mid-section links a progressive hush with Torch sensibilities and Bluesy lead meanders which allow the track to rise again steadily and gloriously, helped by those riff and lead duels that epitomise the band’s identity. The recoil of the ensuing ‘Vultures’ is lazy yet infectious and laced with foreboding, Birch’s warbling, laid back intonation echoing through time as the pounding riffs and rhythm section plough furrows through the earth.
Though there has always been a fascinating injection of light into the band’s unmistakably Occult roots, there is an added spring in the step here. The initial cavern-creating crush of ‘Kingdom’ is quickened by Myke Heath’s pummelling beats, leading into a latent swing and a haunting second movement, with George’s deepening, megaphone monotone reaching Pete Steele levels. The following ‘Bleeding Sky’ is the album’s shortest track yet shows a return to the signature sound, a slow suffocation with some of the heaviest riffs founder member Steve Mills has ever produced.
Closer ‘Vanishing Sea’ also houses similarities in sound and texture to the band’s early albums, whilst driving those roots further down with dark, gentle organ and shimmering guitar sections reminiscent of Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’, only much heavier and more threatening. Here the leadwork juxtaposes the more bludgeoning elements with delightful results, Alex Kearney’s basswork shaking the soul yet lifted from the depths on the back of soaring solos.
That this is the band’s final hurrah is shocking, heartbreaking, yet oddly fitting. Whatever the side battles between “Team George” and “Team Sharie”, TWK’s final album showcases the band’s constant desire to progress within the realms of their core sound and, with Messrs Mills and Birch reunited, however briefly, it means it ends almost as it began. Suitably, Visions in Bone is a wondrously emotive, resonant beast which will move its listener to tears and a deep sense of sadness at the demise of one of the world’s truly exceptional Doom outfits.
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