Review Summary: The Last Hangmen release an enjoyable melodic death metal record, a standout in originality if not in a good story.
There is a fine line between dramatic and forced, between respectable and cheesy, and this line is very self-evident in metal music. Melodic death metal like Kalmah
, while often revered as technically proficient and enjoyable, is not as often thought of as very serious. Indeed, be it accidental or by choice, many bands seem to go to the forced side of things when it comes to this delicate relationship. With this in mind, I gave The Last Hangmen
's debut release, Servants of Justice
, several extensive listens to assess their skill, musicianship, and which side of the line they fell on. I must say, whatever my final verdict is, I had a lot of fun listening to the record.
The first track is a slow and ominous attempt at mood-setting that leads directly into the next track. "The Gallow March", clocking in at nearly three minutes, seems like it could easily have been shortened. The complaint is hardly a large one, though, and you shouldn't be listening to melodic death metal if you can't a lengthy setting of the mood. The first proper track, "Lupara Bianca", is a lengthier but more apropro excursion into what makes or breaks the band's sound. Instantly, you get a feel for leads that, though they might be a little underwhelming to some, are distinct enough to stand out. The drumming is powerful and fast when it needs to be, and although this is not noted until later tracks like "Crash Course Dying", they can be slow and evocative when necessary. The vocals, however well done they may be, are easily the most forgettable aspect of Servants of Justice
. There is almost no vocal variation on the album, and very few are instances of layering or other studio tricks that could have been used to improve the performance. The high-mid tone used by vocalist Pether may grow old to some, but despite the lack of variation, it does suit the rest of the band very well.
On grounds of originality, the content on Servants of Justice
can easily seem like a mixed bag. There are several instances of creative riffs and transitions that set songs apart from one another, with tracks like "Hang'em High" and "Knocking Tombstones Down". Simultaneously, the band makes use of the most overused introductory hook in all of melodic death metal history for the opener of "Little Ease", and some of the leading riffs on several other tracks might confuse listeners as to which track is which. The creativity of the band and the melodies of their solos, both of which appear very often, definitely throws some points their way; it should be noted, though, that some things do feel contrived or clichéd. The clashing opener to "Knocking Tombstones Down" is somewhat a stereotypical thing to do for The Last Hangmen's contemporaries, much like the introductory drumming style that every band but Amon Amarth
seems to use. Even so, this behemoth of a track, clocking in at ten minutes and eight seconds, also serves as one of the best and most memorable tracks on the album, ridiculous lyrics and intro included. The band does sound good, even when they're acting on a cliché.
While The Last Hangmen rarely achieves top speed, the guitarplay thankfully never feels out of place. Most of the memorable moments come from the longer solos and melodic, fast-paced leads. The drumming never falters, and somehow manages to be the driving force behind the album even if it doesn't stand out the most - quite possibly due to the somewhat repetitive approach the band's drummer took when designing the drum tracks. While the vocals have less frequent memorable moments, they do have them; that's important to note. Combine all of that with the strong synth-string backing that helps to fortify a powerful melodic influence, and this band sounds less like Kalmah or Amon Amarth and more like their own thing. Lyrics, however, factor into my decision on how serious the album is, and a lot of it is quite ridiculous. From lines like "Oh, how I love to tear your flesh! How I love to eat your brains!" to standout passages like "Undead creatures of the night, stand up and follow me!", it's clear that this album is hardly one with lyrics you can talk about with a straight face. In all honesty, though, that's okay. I have never had a big problem with that, and the music itself has legions of enjoyable moments to it. Why would you detract from that by getting bogged down by pretentious lyrics and silly musical clichés? You shouldn't. You should enjoy the album. Hell, I know I'm going to.
2. "Lupara Bianca"
4. "Crash Course Dying"
5. "Little Ease"
7. "Knocking Tombstones Down"
8. "Cloak and Dagger Operation"