LA's King (often stylized as xKINGx) immediately stood out from the downtempo crowd with horrific lyrical concepts, chilling soundscapes and preposterously heavy production. Two years ago saw the release of The Gathering, 13-track monstrosity of a debut that took this stylistic vein to unheard-of levels. However, their self-titled album suggests its predecessor may also have been the summit of their original sound.
King's decision to shed their downtempo sound inevitably assimilates them to contemporaries like Florida's Traitors and the Bay Area's Spite, but the heights this album reaches in terms of unadulterated brutality and conceptual depth make it one of the most memorable albums this style has to offer.
In case it hasn't been made clear yet, this is not — repeat, N O T — a pure downtempo record. This album offers an array of speed, sludge and groove to contrast slow-motion beatdowns, often emphasized by drummer Cameron Marygold's tasteful cadences from lumbering to blasting. Mind you, King hasn't gotten less heavy, simply more aggressive. In fact, this is arguably the best-produced King release to date. The guitar, bass and drums absolutely destroy, with enough clarity to decipher tasteful arrangements and plenty of low-end crunch to send crowd-killers into a frenzy.
Opener "Void" and the following "Beast" show King's musical diversification, with the former's pounding groove and unbelievably heavy breakdowns contrasting with the latter's two-step-worthy intro riffage. Crossing the ridiculously heavy tones from Meshuggah and Black Tongue with the visceral anger of old Slipknot, this album maintains the seismic weight that has made them infamous while upping its pitch-black hate.
Overtly demonic ambience has largely faded from King's sound. Passages like the possessed mutterings that begin "Devolve" tip a hat to that era, but King's departure from the unique approach they had at their start becomes a double edge sword as they closer to generic territory. Still, these songs maintain a terrifying and compelling aura through nuances in their all-out brawl.
The minute-and-a-half interlude "Untitled," which could easily have been a throw-away track, shows this attention to minutia as its foreboding feedback drone gives its filthy slams a sense of paranoia, but this underlying sense of dread pervades throughout the record. Whether one looks to the slick tempo changes found in "Decay" or the old-school hardcore guitar-work in "Abuse," King injects chaotic modulations and sound manipulations into every direction they take. These attributes disconcerting increase tenfold thanks to Jorden LeGore's phenomenal vocal performances.
Legore again proves he is one of the best frontmen in this scene. His gutturals project like the all-time greats, and his lyrical and emotional quotient only makes his delivery more lethal. His use of tunnel-throat technique has lessened, which actually makes his words incredibly intelligible. This allows tales of isolation, insanity and homicidal urges to take center stage in cuts like "Pain" ("Fake the enjoyment, the pleasure, the pain's overwhelming. Take your assumptions, your desires, you're scum of the earth.") and "Consume" ("Take me away from here. I don't belong inside a padded room. I need something more sinister. I just want to die."), confronting the listener with truly disturbing depictions of depravity and psychosis. The album almost reads like a character study — a vivid depiction of the dark underbelly of human consciousness. Albeit less varied, LeGore's ability to jump from intimate dialogues to overwhelming bellows make this album as engrossing as it is battering.
In the end, the real reason King has transitioned so gracefully out of downtempo is that, in spite of how crushingly harrowing they are, these songs are really catchy. "Waste" exemplifies this the best, in that its sticky riffs and nasty grooves are elevated out of forgettable territory simply because they'll stay in listeners' heads for hours after they hear it. Guitarists Brandon Gordon and Zach Gilman and bassist Joey Magallanes combine suffocating heaviness with accessibility without sacrificing in either category. Even the atmospheric closer "Addiction" remains chocked full of infectious moments, finding the perfect foil for this track's despondent end to a 37-minute tour de force of twisted minds and sonic obliteration.
CONCLUSION: While King's new style has what one would expect from this genre, the quintette continues to distinguish themselves through the impenetrable darkness they bring to the table. It wouldn't hurt to bring back some of their atmospheric tendencies and vocal experimentations, but what they've done here is, frankly, hard to complain about. Fans of nu-school deathcore/beatdown/downtempo and will find a lot to like here, but those looking for a more malevolent twist on the formula will love it to death.
STANDOUT TRACK: Pain
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