Released: 2016, Spinefarm Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Regardless of whether VISIONS IN BONE was developed with intent to be The Wounded Kings’ swan song or if it was an after the fact decision, it’s a bittersweet record either way. Beyond closing the book on one of doom metal’s most underappreciated and left of center brands, it bears the distinction of being an inconsistent and bland epitaph.
Though original vocalist George Birch has been reunited with The Wounded Kings for a couple of years already, VISIONS IN BONE marks the band’s first (and last) new material with him at the helm. And as you might expect, the new tunes bear closer resemblance to the roiling psychedelia of EMBRACE THE NARROW HOUSE than the surly menace displayed during the Sharie Neyland years. Which, conceptually, I understand - original vocalist taking it back to the beginning, full circle kinda vibe. But while the early Birch albums laid the foundation of The Wounded Kings, it was really the albums released during his absence that propelled the band forward – particularly 2014’s epic CONSOLAMENTUM. It was during these years that sole mainstay Steve Mills managed to bridge the band’s occult inspired origins with the kind of droning, sonic horror that would become The Wounded Kings’ signature sound. To abandon that momentum for the sake of a reunion album feels and sounds like a step backwards.
But even as a retro Wounded Kings album, VISIONS IN BONE feels like it’s just going through the motions. Birch sounds like he’s phoning in his part from a telephone booth in another county most of the time, and the riffs are often a simple mimic of the vocal lines; pedestrian at best, generic at worst. Moments like the Hendrix inspired divergence in “Beast” and the philosophical lectures in “Kingdom” fill inspirational voids with hints of where the songs could’ve gone, but settle back into comfortable familiarity just as things start getting good.
With each successive listen, I find myself warming up to VISIONS IN BONE a little bit more. But that’s like saying “I’ve eaten plain oatmeal every day, 3 times a day for 6 months, and after a while, you really look forward to the taste of bland gruel.” To their credit, The Wounded Kings have a fabulous discography to be remembered for, but longtime supporters will likely be disappointed that this is how things end.