When you think about hard rock/metal bands who have been around for 3 decades and are only in the last several years have released their most impressive and vital music of their careers, Denmark’s legendary Pretty Maids should be at the top of that list. It’s one thing for a band to survive over 30 years in the ever changing music industry, but starting with 2010’s “comeback” album, Pandemonium, Pretty Maids experienced not only a career renaissance, but a creative jackpot that would continue with 2013’s Motherland, 2014’s Louder Than Ever (a compilation of re-recorded classics and new material), and finally the bands newest opus, Kingmaker, which was released through Frontiers Records on November 4, 2016.
The band led by original members Ronnie Atkins and Ken Hammer have never sounded as energized as they do on the bands 15th studio album, Kingmaker. Atkin’s vocals, like a fine wine, have only gotten better with age. Atkins has the ability to sing with aggressive rasp and grit as well as an incredible melodic AOR sensibility that put him at the top of the melodic rock genre when it comes to lead vocalists. Meanwhile, guitarist Hammer digs into his bag of tricks to create blistering riffs, melodic heartfelt guitar solos, and most importantly, memorable songwriting. The production duties are handled by one of the best in the business, Mr. Jacob Hansen, who, as expected, gets the best sounds and performances for Kingmaker.
When it comes to lyrical subject matter, the band has always mixed themes of relationships/love with biting social commentary and political overtones (going all the way back to the Future World album’s Yellow Rain). Atkins paints a picture with his vocal melodies that few of his peers can match. This is one of the many reasons why Ronnie is one of the most in-demand vocalists in rock/metal projects (Avantasia and Nordic Union to name just two).
The album starts off with the ferocious and powerful statement When God Took The Day Off, a song that seemingly asks the question where is God while the world is consumed by war, poverty, and hatred. The albums title track is a fist pumping heavy metal monster of an anthem with chugging guitar rhythms and razor sharp riffing, blistering solos, double-bass drumming, melodic verses, and a huge sing-a-long chorus.
The band switches things up on the AOR power of Face the World, an uplifting and upbeat song with Atkins in his perfect element of strong melodic vocals with a soaring chorus. Guest keyboardist Kim Olesen adds to the magnificence of the song as well as the entire album. Humanize Me starts slowly with an ominous sounding, clean guitar tone and Atkins vocal approach fits perfectly as the song builds with intensity into a spectacular strong chorus with the heavy guitar rhythms of Hammer and the commanding rhythm section of drummer Allan Tschicaja and bassist Rene Shades leading the way.
The sensitive side of Atkins and company comes shining through on Last Beauty On Earth, a tender, yet splendid power ballad. This is the type of incredible songwriting that Pretty Maids has excelled at for almost 40 years. The next song, and my personal favorite on the album, is the hard-charging rocker, Bulls Eye. One part blistering grooving heavy metal and one part AOR anthem, the songs chorus is infectious and will have you singing along instantly.
King of The Right Here and Now comes charging hard right out of the gates with ferocious riffing and Atkins gritty metal scream. The verses have finesse and intricacy, leading to another winning melodic chorus. Atkins gets to show off his lead singer style and swagger on the 80’s tinged melodic hard rocker Heavens Little Devil.
The next song, Civilized Monsters, is another ultra-heavy track whose subject matter deals with ills of today’s society. Musically, this is one of the best tracks on Kingmaker and definitely its heaviest moment. This song is tremendous from start to finish. Sickening keeps the heavy vibe going with another incredible track. This song personifies Pretty Maids when they are at their best, red hot and heavy (pardon the pun, I couldn’t resist!).
The albums last track is the mid-tempo heavy sonic groove of Was That What You Wanted, a song with melodic melancholy verses and a triumphant and strong chorus. Atkins vocals are strong and filled with conviction and ferocity. With the lyric “the battle rages on”, a perfect way to close out another incredible album from the absolute kings of the melodic metal genre. It’s a shame that Pretty Maids remain a cult favorite as they are just now releasing the best albums of their storied career. Kingmaker is a must have for Pretty Maids fans as well as other melodic hard rockers such as Pink Cream 69, Shakra, and Eclipse.