Hail to the King - that's what you want to call out when you listen to the album that was released yesterday (March 24, 2023). After your debut in 2020 with the album “Hammer of the Gods” began for Viking Queen from Norway a strenuous journey with many changes in the band line-up. But the boys have obviously now reached their destination. The album was released via SF RECORDS (Sentralforlaget) in Norway and will also be available on CD and vinyl.
The new singer at Viking Queen
More recently, the band around manager and band founder Geir Miranda added Chilean singer Francisco Gomez - a male voice to continue the tracks formerly sung by Marthe Elisabeth. Well, that turned out to be rather difficult considering the templates, which are aimed at a female voice.
Thus, the 5-piece band transformed from the Viking Queen to “Viking King”, and that was obviously very good for the band's creativity. It's certainly good to dive into an album of dragons and kingdoms from time to time - but that doesn't reflect the current zeitgeist. And that's where the band came in Viking Queen now also on.
In an interview on morning television on radio station Galaxy107fm (New Zealand), frontman Francisco revealed that the new album would take up different, personal points of view and depict them in songs. So the songwriting on the album was ported more to the “today” from pure history lessons from the Viking era. An excellent idea, I would like to say.
The band line-up
About last year's line-up of Francis Gomez (vocals). Band veteran Robert “Robban” Hoffstaetter (guitar), Andreas Wilhelmsen (guitar) and bassist Roy Sandåker were recently joined by drummer Izzy Prat. Shortly thereafter, the recordings for the album began “Badabing” recording studio” in Norway. At this point, a big compliment to the sound engineer and producer Robert Hauge, who managed to show a really fresh, fat mix with a wonderful transparency.
attuned to each other
Two of the songs on the album were pre-released as singles in 2022 ('Fight for Glory' and 'Attitude'). I have to admit that these two releases from last year didn't grab me, but that was mainly due to the mediocre sound mix. Apparently both tracks have now been re-recorded and mixed for the album - now they sit just right! Apparently it just took a little time to bring the very fresh crew together.
well-tried Riffs in a new guise
But now to the songs. When you first hear the “Hail to the King” Tracks I was a bit irritated at first, because this disc has at best the harmonic style in common with the first album, after that the similarities stop. Drummer Izzy Prat - who obviously comes from the progressive corner - does not skimp on syncopation and countless mini-breaks and stoppers. The guitar work was more familiar there; both guitarists shape the songs in the style of the 80s (which you can already see on the first album). Roy Sandåker on the bass shines with his 5-string and skilfully fills the – in my opinion targeted arrangement free spaces – with the deepest, warm-sounding highlights.
The Big Surprise
The biggest surprise, however, revealed to me Viking Queen Singer Francisco Gomez. While he still sings with a clear voice in “Fight for Glory”, from “Punishment” he reveals a grumbling growl more and more often, which expands more and more from song to song and also prevails.
Fight for Glory
The revised version of the single already released in 2022 and the first official collaboration between Viking Queen and singer Francisco Gomez. The highlight of the style mix of hard rock building blocks and quite bluesy guitar parts is clearly the catchy chorus.
“Punishment” strongly reminds me of the well-known stylistic elements of early Queensryche, and yet Francis manages to conquer the song with his vocal skills and create something modern and new out of it.
Freedom is illusion
'Freedom is Illusion' is designed as a sing-along anthem and, as is typical for the genre, has many chorus repetitions in the last third of the piece. The guitar fraction masters their craft (like on the other songs of the album), here it is drummer Izzy Prat who leads the song with well-placed breaks more into the progressive style of modern times.
“Shadowhunter” is number four on the album and clearly starts off with a classic bluesRiff. From here it happens; Francis starts in a lower, more powerful pitch, works his way up to the middle register. The chorus is a nice catchy tune, the song speed is more balladesque. A cleanly worked out two-part guitar part rounds off the appearance. This song is clearly my personal highlight on the disc. Incidentally, it was written by the band's veteran, Robert “Robban” Hofstaetter.
Attitude – re-recorded for the album – sounds much more spatial in this version and brings out the depth that was sorely missed on the single release. However, my personal perception signals to me that this song comes from an early development stage of the collaboration. In my ears it bumps more than the next track, for example. Stylistically it would fit quite well on an early Judas Priest album.
Valhalla can wait
“Valhalla can wait” – you might think this is a warrior's hymn in the style of Manowar, but that's far from the case. Basically, this is a love song. "... I just wanna spend the rest of my life with you..." it says in the text. Riff, verse and prechorus show happy party rock borrowings à la Twisted Sister interspersed with drum breaks that reset the song flow again and again. Reward in chorus Viking Queen the inclined listener with real warrior metal quality. At the end of the track, background vocals from the whole band come into play with “Warriors”, “Nordmen”, “Hey” and rather dark, grim sounds. Certainly a very personally interpretable song. The overall artistic statement is not yet clear to me at the moment.
“Berzerk” is the seventh track on the 44-minute album. A smooth mid-tempo number with a melodic, catchy vocal line. What is surprising is the passage at the end of each chorus, which provides the harmonic and melodic variety in double time.
Gods and Visions
Number eight - "Gods and Visions" - starts with a driving rhythm and offers Francis a good opportunity to let his vocal line alternate between clean and growling flavor. The arrangement in the chorus is quite dramatic and successful. Very varied, with background vocals, drum fills, various guitar licks and Riffs.
Flight of the Valkyries
“Flight of the Valkyries” moves into more sombre realms, I mean hearing a bit of Black Sabbath in the recipe. After the intro, the connoisseur and lover of Judas Priest will surely find parallels. However - and that makes it worth listening to - not in the classic conventions, sondern in a very unique way. Here, too, it is mainly Francis who imprints a very unique character with his voice.
Hail to the King
The last song on the album is the title track of the album”Hail to the King”. All the elements that hard rockers expect from a Viking band can be found here. Stylistically located somewhere between Iron Maiden and Manowar, Francis lays himself over the detailed double bass passages with a clear voice.
And finally ...
Viking Queen - Hail to the King is a successful album, which offers hard rock listeners a fresh, up-to-date sound and skillful, well-tried Riffs waiting. The arrangements are mostly unconventional, which gives the whole album a very unique touch. The guitar work is solid and skillful. Even if only a few elements are surprising for today's standard, there are still an infinite number of small, loving details and an irrepressible joy of playing. Singer Francis lends to everyone Viking Queen Song a character that I would like to call unique. From a sound point of view, the band and the recording studio have created a real masterpiece with this album.
As with many big bands, there is clearly an orientation and musical development in the right direction. Personally, I would like to see more of Francis' aggressive vocal elements paired with two-part guitar solos. Viking Queen - Hail to the King is clearly the album of a band on the way to real greatness.
Review written by Jørg Klein, 25.03.2023.