ROYAL HUNT — The Watchers (review)

ROYAL HUNT — The Watchers album cover EP · 2001 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Dubbed “the longest EP in history” (at nearly 70 minutes of length), The Watchers is an EP released by Danish melodic prog metallers Royal Hunt to accompany the release of their 6th full-length album The Mission. The EP contains one new track that was not included on The Mission but is part of the same concept (a musical soundtrack for the book "The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury about the colonization of Mars by Americans who flee the troubled, war-ridden Planet Earth). The EP also contains four live tracks and four re-recordings of songs taken from the band’s earlier albums. Seven of these eight songs are particularly interesting because they feature for the first time new singer John West who had joined the band only two years prior, following the departure of the band’s previous, much beloved singer DC Cooper.

The previously unreleased track, “Intervention”, appears on the EP in two versions (a full version and a radio-edit version). The full version is a great, 14-minute epic, proggy track that in my opinion is almost better than any of the songs that were actually included on The Mission album. The track moves through different, recurring parts, some of which instrumental while others feature the great John West at the mic. His singing here, as on The Mission, is impeccable: warm, soulful but powerful and epic when needed. The song features a very nice chorus that reminds me of the Paradox album, partly because of its lyrics describing an imaginary dialogue with God. The whole song is actually more in the spirit of the music the band released on Moving Target/Paradox (symphonic, mid-tempo, classically-inspired prog rock/metal) than the more metallic and fast-tempo songs included on The Mission. This perhaps explains why “Intervention” was left out of the full-length release since, sonically, it does not match the rest of the tracks of that album very well. The song also sounds better produced than the material released on The Mission, whose sound I found a bit too compressed, thin and plasticky. The drum sound in particular is much improved as it feels less artificial and processed than the sound on The Mission album (drummer Allan Sørensen is credited a playing on the EP, while he did not appear on the full-length album). Overall, this is an awesome track that alone is worth the price of the EP.

The other tracks are live or re-recorded versions of songs from earlier albums, mostly Paradox, Clown in the Mirror and Land of Broken Hearts. The most interesting aspect of these tracks, as I mentioned earlier, is that these are among the first recordings of these songs with John West behind the mic. West is an amazing singer, there’s no doubt about it. However, his voice is quite special - warm, bluesy, and soulful - and it truly shines when the music gives him space to breathe and he can explore the space between the notes. Some of these earlier songs have been written for a different type of vocalist, like DC Cooper, whose performance is much tighter and more sober. The same goes for the earlier songs written for the band’s original singer Henrik Brockmann who sang on Royal Hunt’s first two albums. This is to say that, although it is interesting to listen to John West performing tracks taken from the band’s first four albums, the outcome is not as amazing as one would have perhaps expected. Especially on the live versions of “Flight” (from Land of Broken Hearts) and “Message to God” (from Paradox), West sounds a bit uncomfortable and out of place. He lacks the grit that Brockmann put in his performance and the tightness of DC Cooper. He does better on “Epilogue” (from Clown in the Mirror) that is indeed a more spacious song that is more apt to West's expressive, modulated vocals. The same applies to the studio re-recordings, where West appears more in his element on soulful tracks like “Clown in the Mirror” than “One by One” (from Land of Broken Hearts).

Despite this, The Watchers remains a nearly-essential release if you are a Royal Hunt fan. The unreleased track left off The Mission is worth alone the purchase of the EP, being a song that is probably superior to all the material released on that full-length album. The live and re-recorded tracks are interesting because of the presence of the new singer John West and more generally because they contain some of the most beautiful tracks the band has ever written (“Message to God”, “Epilogue”, “Clown in the Mirror”, “Legion of the Damned”).

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lukretion wrote:
48 days ago
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!
Tupan wrote:
57 days ago
Nice review. I've listened to the first track, it's really excellent!


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