Unexpected and challenging are apt words to describe the latest project, Kingdom of Ruin, from Oklahoma's Vangough. But that's certainly 'expected' from this talented band. It's nearly odd to say, but one might call Kingdom of Ruin 'thinking man's' prog. It certainly offers a high degree of creativity and ingenuity, yet without sacrificing immense entertainment.
Perhaps this comes from the album's curious concept. Offering, possibly, a twist on Lewis Caroll's tale of Alice as stranger in a a strange land, principal and lyricist Clay Withrow proposes a man torn between two worlds. His origins appear to be in the human world. Or are they? Via transformation and travel he finds himself a visitor and heir (apparent?) in the magical kingdom of the family Leporidae; rabbits, that is. It's the 'Night of the Lepus' in the light of progressive music.
Kingdom of Ruin is a tale of two worlds and one man in conflict. It seems that the first six songs (the absence of lyrics did not help) speak to the conflict and transient nature of his place in the human world: the songs are marked by heaviness and sometimes a dark mood. Later, the songs seem brighter, without being Splenda sweet, revealing the conclusion: our protagonist would rather live in the rabbit world, accepted and affirmed, than suffer us humans. Once more: or not?
Perhaps this comes from the musical compositions that offer interesting combinations of genres, moods, and passages. Kingdom of Ruin is both progressive metal and rock, and possibly neither after listening to portions of Choke Faint Drown and Abandon Me, where the grim vocals of alternative metal support the vocal arrangements.
If anything, the aforementioned division certainly provides contrast and, yes, the overarching motif is prog. The first half is more heavy, brooding, and conflicting progressive metal, and the latter, though not lacking heavy moments as within Stay, delivers more expected classic prog rock (or metal). Notable is Sounds of Wonder and the delightful A Father's Love. But An Empire Shattered offers some big riffs and heavy moments, but still has a crisp, even catchy, melodic rock feel. The closing opus, The Garden That Time Forgot, combines the best of both halves of the album. It's moving and inspired, but especially shows Vangough's song craftsmanship and sound musicianship. Honestly, these are good.
Frankly, like Manikin, to plumb the depths of Kingdom of Ruin requires intentional curiosity and repeated listens Why? Because it's that damn good. Strongly recommended.