By James Baragar
CALGARY – “Mike and I being in (legendary American black/death act) Order From Chaos (OFC) definitely helps the band. A lot of people know us because of that band, and that’s fine. We’re never gonna get out from under that shadow.”
This succinctly sums up the inextricable link between OFC and Ares Kingdom, both of which contain(ed) guitarist Chuck Keller. Historian by trade, he was the guitarist of OFC for the entirety of their triumphant reign and he now spearheads thrashy death metal act Ares Kingdom, which operates out of Kansas City.
“Besides,” he continues, “it’s not like we’re trying to outrun our history. And really, the two bands are very similar.”
While there would be equal parts agreement and argument in any discussion about the two bands, they aren’t all that different.
“If I played you an OFC song and then an Ares Kingdom song, you’d see how similar the two are. If anything, I think OFC is comparatively immature.”
And yet, the only thing that really sets the two apart is the production values. OFC’s incredibly lo-fi production, which has inspired legions of war metal bands, is the perpetual subject of Chuck’s lament.
“We wanted to follow in the footsteps of Venom and Sodom and Voivod, stuff like that. That production is my fault and I hate myself for it everyday. I can’t even listen to [1992’s fan favourite] Stillbirth Machine because of it! I remember my first thought when I put it on in my car was ‘What is this! Did someone kick a hornet’s nest?! Were these drums recorded on an AM transistor radio?!’”
Chuck and [drummer] Mike [Miller] formed Ares Kingdom while OFC was winding down, and like a soldier rising from private to sergeant, they aged and matured (and probably earned some incurable PTSD for their troubles, as well. What happens on tour stays on tour).
As the saying goes…. with age comes wisdom, a ruined back, and significantly better production. This was skilfully showcased on their first few EPs and ultimately, their first full-length, 2006’s Return to Dust.
It really is amazing how much of a difference the production makes. While OFC’s debut features a guitar tone that sounds like a swarm of locusts large enough to block the sun, and an overall sound so murky it could be legally classified as ‘mud,’ Ares Kingdom’s debut stands in stark contrast. It boasts a sound so full, robust, and balanced it would fool nine out of ten coffee aficionados if you ground up a CD instead of the coffee beans.
Their newest album, 2015’s The Unburiable Dead, is a semi-concept album about the First World War. Rather than telling the story using characters and traditional storytelling techniques, The Unburiable Dead focuses less on a particular event, instead taking a holistic approach.
“I tried to take kind of a far reaching approach to the topic of the war. So the songs are a bit episodic, yeah. When we first did the album, I was resistant to the idea of it being a concept album, so I have to take a step back and admit it kind of is. It is, but it isn’t,” says Keller.
Writing the lyrics in a neutral voice also wasn’t an easy task.
“In a way, the history that we know of is skewed, due to a lot of it not being [completed] until the ‘60s. So some of it served a political purpose, especially in the anti-war 1960s,” says the historian.
Musically, the album remains very much in the style they had shown on their two previous albums. The guitar riffs leave bayonet wounds, the vocals are overwhelming in their fury, the drums hammer down like the shelling at the infamous Battle of Somme, and the bass rumbles the ground like the impending arrival of a tank. All this is despite the departure of their second guitarist Doug Overbay in 2015. He left due to long-term health issues.
“There is a camaraderie that’s missing, but fans have also told us that there seems to be very little missing in terms of aggression and fundamental feeling of our show, which is fantastic to hear.”
Though the five-year wait between previous album Incendiary and The Unburiable Dead was gruelling, fans won’t have to wait that long for the follow-up.
“I’ve almost finished the next album. I’ve got about 85 per cent written, and I know what the rest of it needs to be, so it’s really just a question of putting everything in its place,” reveals Keller.
Although each album is similar, and can be easily identified as Ares Kingdom, there is a song writing standard that will be continually improved on.
“It’s gonna be in the Ares Kingdom style, frankly. If anything, it’s gonna be darker,” says Keller.
“The stuff we’ve rehearsed for it has made Mike and [bassist Alex Blume] take a step back and say [that it is darker] and more aggressive than anything we’ve done so far.”
As far lyrical content goes, the only spoiler Keller would provide is the information that the subject wouldn’t revolve around a historical period one would suspect.
“I remember about 30 years ago, [hardcore band] English Dogs had a song, on [1984’s] Invasion of the Porky Men, where one of the lyrics is “Why doesn’t anyone sing about World War II?” which is funny, looking back, cause now everyone has something about World War II. It’s not that I have no interest on it, it’s just too overdone and cliché.”
Ares Kingdom play the Mercury Room June 1 (Edmonton) and Distortion June 2 (Calgary). Both shows have support from Phylactery, Pathetic, and Begrime Exemious.Ares Kingdom, Distortion, Mercury Room, Phylactery