Review By: Todd Naevestad
Gloryhammer has to be one of the dumbest bands that I’ve ever listened to. It’s like someone took Star Wars, He-Man, Dungeons & Dragons, and Space Dandy, threw it into a blender, snorted it, and rode that trip all the way to the other side of the multiverse. It’s madness. And Hell’s bells do I love it. The unabashed earnestness that fills the music is something I can’t deny, and even more so have to respect. Their first album was a chance to find their feet, and the second they hit their stride. So how does the third in their trilogy reflect the bands continued growth?
And for any of you weird metal fans like me, I’m going to be spoiling the albums story, so heads up.
This album picks up where the second left off, following the story of Angus McFife and his battle against the evil wizard Zargothrax. If Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards was Gloryhammer stretching their creative muscles, than Legends From Beyond the Terrorvortex really feels like they’ve shifted into top gear and are rolling along smoothly. Everything is clean and fluid. Lead singer Thomas Winkler’s voice is a great central pillar to build around. His clean vocals are fun to listen to and deliver the album’s story clearly but with plenty of gravitas. Even when singing about a magic jetpack, his voice makes it feel like an important part of the music. There is also this signature chip in his voice that doesn’t come out too often, but when it does, it adds an extra punch to the lyrics. It helps that the language for the lyrics is so well crafted. While it still holds the signature cheese that we expect from them, the presentation is usually strong. Some songs really stand out as having a dynamic lyrical pattern that elevates the musical backing to an even stronger position. A track like “Hootsforce” works so well because the high energy music is matched by the pace of the lyrics. It’s a great combination.
What I enjoy so much is the balance between the two main instruments, guitar and keyboard. When you listen to metal, you know the guitar is going to be big. Solos, shredding, and an undeniable presence is something that will always be a key focus. And here is no different. Paul Templing does exceptional work matching the Fantasy/Sci-Fi mash-up in tone and style. The solos are as over-the-top as they need to be to really stand out in all the madness. The keyboard is still manned by Christopher Bowe, of Alestorm fame, and he really provides the variety that the album needs. Theme only goes so far, but when you have the range that the keyboard offers, it fills each track with unique weight and helps steer them into their wild and comfortable style. What takes place in outer space sounds different to a track about exploring the woods thanks to the keyboard setting the atmosphere. The union of the two sells the strength of the album.
There aren’t too many problems with this album. I will say that a few tracks lack the punch of others. The middle of the album lags a bit. They don’t have the same creativity that the rest of the album shows. There are a few instances where it sounds like a copy of songs from the old albums, and not in an homage kind of way. The middle three songs come across like they needed to fill time for the story and didn’t have the music to carry them through. Again, it’s not bad, they’re just not exciting. Which feels like a real missed opportunity with a song about an interstellar magic jetpack. There are a few technical hiccups here and there. The voice over used for the Narrator sounds a lot like Zargothrax and throws off the cohesion some. There are a couple of times where we are supposed to infer the action from one lyric to the next, and while it works for the story, it feels like a stretch of dead air; there must have been a more elegant solution to that.
And like I promised, this is where I word-nerd out on the story. So if you want to avoid spoilers, skip these next three paragraphs.
This is number three in the epic story of Angus McFife. I mentioned Star Wars in the opening paragraph and it feels like an apt comparison. Legends From Beyond the Terrorvortex is basically their Return of the Jedi. It feels like this is what we’ve been building towards and by the end, does feel like a climactic and satisfying conclusion. We begin en media res with an evil proclamation from Zargothrax and Angus returning to the past via the wormhole he took at the end of Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards, directly into a battle in an alternate version of his home, where the once valiant knights of Crail are now evil Deathknights and Zargothrax rules all. When Angus attempts to strike him down, he finds his once mighty hammer is powerless and must escape. Thus begins his journey to find allies, regain his power, and finally end Zargothrax. It’s a bit strange to approach this one. The previous two albums were peppered with decent story beats in the songs; there was something pushing the plot along. Here though, mostly the interesting stuff is the first two tracks and the last three. The first album had the zombie unicorn invasion of Dundee, which is super memorable, and this one has them travel to the land of unicorns where nothing happens. It is not a payoff in any form. You’d think this would be the time to reveal more about the previous enemies and show them before Zargothrax’s influence. But that just doesn’t happen.
And speaking of previous characters, does anyone else remember the princess? She was kind of a big deal in the first album, with a whole song dedicated to her. And she’s just gone, never to be seen again. Maybe I’m the only one, but that feels like a loose thread. We had the perfect setup for her to show up again as an evil sorceress or priestess or something. Like I said, it picks up towards the end as we get into the expected climactic battle, and have the full 12 minute 33 second final track that details the conflict, the struggle of Angus, the arrival of the Hootsman, (who is apparently a god now? I don’t know how that happened; his prestige has been rising in every album, so I guess this is the logical conclusion), the clash between Angus and Zargothrax, and the final defeat of the evil wizard. But woe befalls our hero as it is discovered that he has been stabbed with the Knife of Evil, a rather contrived mcguffin to get us to this point, and must sacrifice himself for the greater good. Contrivance aside, it’s actually a really well handled moment of a hero’s last stand and ultimate end. The finale of the song holds enough gravitas to make it actually really memorable. And so the story ends, not with a bang but… with a dial-up internet connection? Okay sure.
In all, I’m actually really pleased with the story. It’s a good bit of cheesy nonsense that really believes in itself and attacks its medium with earnest. Yeah the middle chunk wasn’t really special, but the ending makes up for it and really pulls it all together. Look, I was a writing major in college, so I’m going to be pedantic about this kind of stuff; but if it got someone as glasses-pushingly annoying as I am to get invested, I’d say that’s a win. I really want to know where Gloryhammer takes it from here. If you’re paying attention, yes there is a sequel hook in the final song, but it could realistically end here and satisfy. They’ve got me on the hook still, and I’ll look forward to their next release.
I think I wrote just as much critiquing the music as I did the story, and that should tell you I have a problem. But I mean it when I say I love Gloryhammer. Trying to walk the line between serious and ridiculous is often a losing battle, and I respect more those who commit. And truthfully, it only works so well because the music is wonderful. The story and characters are fun, but if it was hitched to a dead song, no one would suffer through that. It’s not perfect, there are some flaws and some issues of staleness, but it brings about that Saturday morning cartoon kind of glee I grew up with. And that’s always worthwhile in my book.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Recommendations: Hammerfall, Kamelot, Dragonforce