The Spiritual Dark Age by To Kill a King – Album Review
By David Schuster
The big subjects of God, faith and organised religion are the recurring themes of The Spiritual Dark Age, the latest release from To Kill A King. That’s ambitious territory for any band to tackle. Do they manage to pull it off?
To Kill A King avoid falling into the trap of being overly preachy, managing to juxtapose serious lyrics against upbeat tunes in a way that’s reminiscent of The Smiths at their best. The title track opens with “And so the good man said: Turns out God is dead… Welcome to the Spiritual Dark Age” to a catchy REM-influenced rock backing. It sets the scene for the whole album, underlined in ‘The Unspeakable Crimes Of Peter Popoff’, which highlights the outrages committed by that particular television evangelist.
“Low and sinister”
I’d have liked ‘Compassion is a German Word” based on the title alone, but it’s also a strong pop rock tune with wry lyrics: “We’re all the heroes in our own film, or maybe the villain in someone else’s”.
‘Oh Joy’ is just that, a joy. It starts with Ralph Pellymounter’s voice, low and sinister against an acoustic guitar, then builds with drums and bass until a soaring violin kicks in. This really is the group performing at their best.
Unfortunately, the second half of the album doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the first. That’s not to say that there aren’t highlights, but it’s always a mistake to put all the strongest material at the beginning. As an experiment I played the The Spiritual Dark Age another couple of times starting with track seven, and it works much better.
Even so, I’d have left out ‘The One With The Jackals’, which tries to capture nihilistic world weariness in a way that Tom Waits and Nick Cave have done much better. ‘I Used To Work Here, Perhaps You Did Too?’ is too strident. Whilst as a stand-alone number it’s a fair punk-influenced song, but it just doesn’t fit into the overall feel of the record. Sometimes less really is more.
‘My God & Your God’ and ‘Bar Fights’ mark a return to form towards the end. You have to love a line as cynical as “But my God and your God they don’t get along. As miserable apart as they were as one”.
So, do To Kill A King manage to fulfil the ambition of the album’s subject? Not quite, but almost, and sometimes that’s enough.