Sound — 8
Crimson Shadows is a fairly new melodic death metal band as this is just their second full-length release. I should point out that I classify them as melodic death metal or perhaps folk metal (Ensiferum perhaps?) as a general way of describing them however they certainly have more to offer. Imagine taking the catchy melodic lead licks of Iron Maiden, mix in some of the vocals and themes from Amon Amarth and top it off with the power metal speed of Stratovarious. Throw it all in a blender and you essentially get Crimson Shadows. The sound quality is exceptionally well done on the album, and if you are a fan of impressive guitar skills and musicianship (hopefully you are if you're on this site) then certainly this album will be quite enjoyable. There are lead solos and melodic licks galore throughout the album; the typical chugging (0-0-0-0) found in many death/heavy metal bands are largely absent in their place you will find riffs more akin to power metal with blazing fast power chord progressions. While Crimson Shadows sticks to just the classic guitars/bass/drums (outside of the intro song) the playing is kept tight and the music stays interesting enough with a vast number of harmonies and lead guitar work. Given their musicianship it would be nice to see a bit more riff work done, as the majority of the album does consist of catchy lead over lightning fast power chords.
Lyrics — 7
As I said before there felt like there was a bit of an Amon Amarth (maybe some hints of Ensiferum) or just a general viking/battle metal influence going on here. I mean just look at the cover, it's called "Kings Among Men" and you got a masked warrior beefcake waving a sword, it's not like there's a lot of emotionally charged philosophical songs on here. That being said you'll find almost every song about the glory of battle, bravery, and war. Luckily it is pulled in such a way that it does not come across over the top corny; however it is also not lyrically very impressive. While there are a lot of generic triumphant-brotherhood-sword-in-my-hand type lyrics, this is not necessarily a bad thing, however it can leave you feeling unfulfilled as a listener. On the positive side it also means you know what to expect song to song, and really there's no surprises- after listening to "Rise to Power" you get the general idea of what the whole album is like.
My one real gripe with the album would be the how the vocals are used. The growling/death vocals are done very well, the clean vocals could use some work. I can't quite put my finger on just what is wrong, all I can say is that the clean vocals seem a little under par, and they're almost too clean. Or perhaps it's just that you have this majestic clean voice singing over extremely fast gallop of distorted guitars and intertwining its way through a tremendous amount of death growls. My other issue with the lyrics/vocals is that the choruses really became too similar. Nearly every chorus consists of a harsh death growl line, a clean response, a death growl line and a clean response. The song "Rise to Power" is a terrific song and features a lyric video on YouTube, give it a listen and you'll see what I mean, the chorus to that song is the same as every other chorus on the CD. That's not to say that it doesn't sound good, but only that after 45-50 minutes you sort of want something new.
Overall Impression — 9
Despite my feelings on the vocals during the choruses, this is a terrific album start to finish. This is only their second album, and they are working on a third but I would expect a lot of growth from this band. "Kings Among Men" showcases some serious potential, and in my opinion any negatives come not from actual issues with the album but with a wanting of more. As I said before all the songs are well written but you will find some parts, choruses especially, will start to sound a bit repetitive. The band has a lot of talent, and definitely willingness to experiment with the music, showcased in a surprising acoustic section in "Braving the Storm" (as well as briefly in the instrumental "On the Eve of Battle") and especially on their last song which is a terrific 10 minute epic. This is really the only song that deviates a bit from the norm and shows what the band is capable of, while the playing is top notch on every song; it is the final song "Moonlit Skies and Bloody Tides" that really shows off their capabilities and hopefully future exploits. This song hints at the bands progressive capabilities, which they will hopefully expand upon in their next release. All in all this is a terrific album for fans of folk/speed/melodeath and I highly recommend giving it a listen. The music is incredibly melodic and well written, the band is currently writing a follow-up and I for one am very excited to see the direction that this band goes.