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Royal Hunt - Dystopia - Part II CD (album) cover


Royal Hunt


Progressive Metal

4.05 | 12 ratings

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Steve Conrad
4 stars Going For Baroque...

...With Burning Passion.

Confession- I had never paid close attention to Norwegian progressive metal quintet ROYAL HUNT- a truly veteran outfit formed by composer/keyboard maestro André Andersen somewhere around 1989 and its only continuous member- since I often found silly and pretentious the works of other bands with neo-classical flourishes, choirs, and sing-along anthemic choruses. shredding guitars, and power-metal touches.

Until now.

This review of ROYAL HUNT's 16th studio album, "Dystopia, Part 2"- and I admit that coming into the two part conceptual work based on Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel, "Fahrenheit 451" midway (since there IS a Part 1 as well) might be a little strange- has changed my mind.

A lot.

Sadly, But Carry On Anyhow

Unfortunately I was not able to locate lyrics to this album, but I was immediately impressed with a number of things about Dystopia, Part 2- the quality of compositions, the layers of complexity, the melodicism, the musicianship, and the cohesion of the overall concept embodied in Part 2.

And it's unrelenting (or almost) intensity.

I remember maybe four decades ago attending a Jean-Luc Ponty concert, and perhaps 2-plus hours later stumbling out of the theater (stone cold sober) as though in a near coma. It was almost relentlessly loud and intense. I was numbed. There was little room to 'breathe' during the concert, and it took a toll despite the high level of musicianship during that concert.

I felt the same after several listenings to Dystopia, Part 2.

So Much, So Often

The album opens with scratchy-needle on vinyl record album-sounds, and flowing classical music begins to intrude. This brief interlude and a few others are examples of "room to breathe", and they are NEEDED.

After this opening stage-setter, track two begins the epic, symphonic, busy, layered wall of sound that I thought characterizes the music. Please don't take this as criticism, simply as the way I experienced it, alongside the exuberant drumming, the masterful guitar work, the many-layered and varied keyboards, and the expressive vocals that somehow avoided over-emoting, while conveying many emotions nonetheless.

Often in the album there are passages in which energy and busy-ness subside, only to begin to build and renew and re-engage.

Things are on a grand scale, always storming Mt. Olympus, always striving for majesty and epic power. Those quieter moments like in "Left In the Wind", in which grand piano and voice give us a passage of considerable emotional heft, yet, quietly, reflectively, in turn allow us to think and experience and feel the music.

This track, one of my favorites on the album, has a surprisingly blues-y/ big-band jazz-y feel, that somehow manages to be stately and elegant and solemn and lovely all at once.


Although I did not have access to lyrics, I could tell from what I could parse through the headphones I use that lyrics reflect the intensity of Bradbury's intentions and concerns while writing his novel. Book-burning. Censorship. Mind- numbing attachment to digital "stuff" and screens and "entertainment". Strong shoves toward conformity. The grave and life-threatening drive by authoritarians toward conformity. The risks and hazards of living with strong convictions in counterpoint to broader society.

All these enacted and embodied by the musical tapestry ROYAL HUNT manages to weave, with virtuoso playing and singing from ALL participants. For me it's hard to pick a 'hero' among this unit, since each so clearly has strengths upon strengths as musicians and collaborators. One musical theme will emerge, and (since I used the term 'Baroque') get embroidered and elaborated and interwoven amongst the layered and complex keyboard work, the superb rhythm section, and the searing guitar work.

Other Features

ROYAL HUNT uses cinematic sound effects- the train station, a man running, tolling bells, shattering glass (Kristallnacht?), perhaps even the entire track "The Key of Insanity" in which the band somehow musically reveals what insanity might feel like, be like.

For me personally, since I love classical music, the symphonic flourishes and touches were a strong and wonderful feature. Examples are liberally found within the entire album, but I especially liked "Scream of Anger" in this regard with the added pleasures of intricate unison runs with guitar and bass and keys, and the kind of orchestration with addition of full rock band I first heard from Jon Lord and Deep Purple.

So Let's Sum Up

This is a powerful, majestic, grand; and INTENSE album that has changed my mind about ROYAL HUNT. I rate it a strong 4, maybe 4.5 out of 5 grandiloquent stars, an "excellent addition to any progressive rock music collection."

Steve Conrad | 4/5 |


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