Poor old indie-rock has been having a rough time of late. Its limitations have been exposed by the adventurism, innovation and genre-hopping invention of artists spanning the globe. Even The Big Moon’s extraordinary Love In The 4th Dimension failed to get the kudos it deserved. Because, well it’s indie, isn’t it? It’s all a bit old school and Britpop to many ears, and unfortunately the phrase indie landfill has permeated the subconscious in negative and damaging ways.
This is an exaggeration, of course. Guitar music still rules for many, and by and large axe-wielders still do very well. Can To Kill A King make it in this environment? Potentially, yes. Theirs is primarily an epic, big indie sound that always seems to find favour. And there’s a thoughtful intelligence at work, as frontman Ralph Pelleymounter dissects modern society’s ills, angsts and turmoil. This approach is spearheaded on the lead and title track, a driving Mumford’s style foot stomper that marries upbeat and muscular musicality with dark lyricism. “So the good man said, Turns out God is dead / They’re worshipping science instead, Faith in books they haven’t read / They’re angry all the time, Angry at some hole inside / Welcome to the spiritual dark age”.
This idea of a big hole on in our collective souls is further explored in ‘The Unspeakable Crimes Of Peter Popoff’, about the notorious German televangelist who was exposed in 1986 for using an earpiece to receive radio messages from his wife giving him the home addresses and ailments of audience members, which he purported had come from God during these faith healing rallies. “Let God erase your debt, and you can live debt free”, says an old American broadcast sample at the beginning, before the band steam in with a taut white boy punk-funk a la The Soft Boys-meets Jim Jones. This is followed by the driving new wave-esque ‘Compassion Is A German Word’, a softening companion piece to ‘…Peter Popoff’ of sorts.
Elsewhere, To Kill A King display their guitar-based eclecticism; on ‘The One With The Jackals’, treated as a raw ‘live’ recording with just finger picked acoustic and Pelleymounter’s beautiful emotional folky voice; the ferocious glam rocker ‘I Used To Work Here, Perhaps You Did Too?’; the anthemic ‘My God & Your God’, a story of two Gods that can’t love each other and yet can’t leave each other alone: “They don’t get along, chasing each other…“; and the nu-folk ‘Cherry Blossom Falls’, big on atmospherics, and complex songcraft.
Then there’s album highlight, the poppy ‘No More Love Songs’ where a modern Sheean-esque lyrical delivery is underpinned by a filthy bassline and a strident rhythm: “No more love songs, they will stay after you’re long gone. It’s a dangerous game to play“, he wisely sings. Conversely, ‘The Good Old Days’ is an unwieldy mix of electronica, acoustica, distorted harmonies and big drums, wrapped up in some kind of epic predictability. While album closer ‘And Yet…’ is cinematically complex, as the piano is wheeled out for some dramatic chords, allied to Pelleymounter’s theatrical voice, theremin and strings, before the song floats along a gentle wave of electronic-generated beats to its conclusion.
The Spiritual Dark Age doesn’t always gel, To Kill A King caught between various stools, as it were, the album failing to flow in places due to the variety of styles and paces as well as a lack of memorable melodies on some numbers. For sure, there are many great individual moments here, but thematically and sound-wise, there is some work still to be done if the band are to truly find their voice.