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It is hard to be distinctive in the frilly-shirted, leather waist-coated, hair-billowing-majestically-in-the-wind world of Power Metal. Yet, make your mark and you’ll find a dedicated, passionate and devoted audience willing to support you, smile benevolently at any missteps and devour anything approaching a return to form. Over the course of their twenty six year career, Denmark’s top exponent of the art Royal Hunt have witnessed all of the above, and with XIII: Devil’s Dozen (Frontiers) have rewarded once more their loyal subjects.
The return to the fold of DC Cooper in 2012 has ensured that the Royal Hunt continues to ride strong into the latter part of their career like a fine wine, as album thirteen rivals Paradox (Magna Carta) as their crowning moment.
Energized by the powerful pigskin pounding of Narnia’s Andreas Johansson, ‘So Right, So Wrong’ announces the commencement of the album in spectacular fashion, with a dramatic and rousing symphonic introduction that bursts out into rocking, roaring guitars. Cooper’s vocals add to the theatrical, Broadway feel before delivering the first, and biggest, of several big choruses.
While Cooper is an obvious and deserving focal point, once again it is Andre Andersen who is the conductor of majesties from behind the ivories (or whatever the keys of a synth are made of…), his songwriting exuding a joie de vivre that is infectious, with each track larger than life. ‘May You Never (Walk Alone)’ hosts everything that works about Royal Hunt, starting life as a piano ballad before exploding in a thunder of drums, power chords, bass runs and synth stabs, racing down the aortic valves fuelling the body.
A bombastic, ambitious, joyful, layered and uplifting album, Andersen knows how to switch it up; ‘Riches To Rags’ introduces a ridiculously catchy piped motif and a folk jiggery-pokery to proceedings, ‘Until The Day’ is over the top symphonic hard rock semi-balladic majesty while ‘Heart On A Platter’ bounces in with thick bass swagger and jazzy keys embellishments, that builds up to a Kamelot-meets-Whitesnake slip of the tongue.
We’ve all witnessed many an album of this ilk that descends into sterile, flaccid by-numbers staid song-writing. Despite each track touching the six minute mark, XIII never outstays its welcome. With flashes of Dokken and Stratovarius, Royal Hunt show, a quarter of a century into their career, how the marriage of power metal with symphonic and hard rock should be done.