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Kingdom Of Giants has always been a band that seem to fly below everyone’s radar, no matter how great the material they put out. It seems no matter how hard they’ve tried, they’ve always stood just a few steps away from the metalcore spotlight. 2014’s ‘Ground Culture’ was undeniably the album that placed them (somewhere) on the map, but the hype surrounding the release seemed to fade in the following months after release. Then came the massively underrated ‘All The Hell You’ve Got To Spare’ in 2017, which seemed to fall on deaf ears, despite it being a terrific release. Nevertheless, they persisted, releasing extremely consistent music. But I have a feeling that this year’s full-length, ‘Passenger,’ just might be the one that changes the game for them.
Make no mistake, ‘Passenger’ is nothing new in the overarching genre of generic metalcore. It follows the same tropes and trends that every other metalcore band has over-used within the last four or five years. (That ever-copied Architects-branded riff on ‘Burner,’ anyone?) Though there’s a catch; Kingdom Of Giants have pulled off this formula better than just about every single one of their generic counterparts with this record. For like genre-specific film tropes, their mere inclusion isn’t the problem, but rather how they’re implemented. It’s the same for music, and the band seemingly know this. In a way, ‘Passenger’ might be the album that countless other dime-a-dozen bands have been trying to create, but Kingdom Of Giants beat them to the punch; a rare example of basically perfecting this overdone style. So credit where it’s due!
The bouncy, djenty onslaught to ‘Night Shift’ is the perfect example of this. On paper, this second track should be nothing special. It’s a generic metalcore song with an extremely simplified formula and structure that pushes no boundaries, but Kingdom Of Giants somehow turn it into a monstrous, beefy, and downright infectious anthem. Complete with its own “smash everything in your room to fucking bits” breakdown. ‘Two Suns’ follows a similar design, with tasty drop F riffage and strong vocal melodies perfectly interlacing with deep, rhythmic synths. Synths, of which, are a huge arrangement element to the composition of ‘Passenger,’ featuring on nearly every song with their pulsating, neon ’80s tone. It’s like some kind of weird, 1980’s metalcore video-game OST, and I love it.
Admittedly, Kingdom Of Giants don’t change things up too often throughout ‘Passenger.’ Though given the sheer quality of the song output, you won’t get any complaints from me. Lead single ‘Sync’ opens with a hooky, slick guitar riff, which transitions into softer, shimmery vocal passages that pull the song onto its massive chorus. ‘Sleeper’ hits an extremely similar vein, albeit with a dash of isolation and melancholy thrown in. The desolate repetition of “I found my own way to suffer” in its choruses lend it a moodier vibe, starkly contrasting the fire and venom found on every other song that surrounds it.
Although most songs follow the band’s tried and true songwriting methods, some do throw a wrench deep into the mix. ‘Blue Dream’ is perhaps the most dynamic song Kingdom Of Giants has ever written. It’s first half being more reserved, poppy, electro and “vibey,” but then its second half suddenly explodes into unadulterated heaviness, all with a feature from Michael Barr of Volumes across the entire piece. ‘Lost Hills’ is perhaps the biggest moment on this entire LP, with vocalist Dana Willax sending it with what is his most emotionally-charged performance ever. ‘Lost Hills‘ makes use of pulsing synths, intimate instrumental passages, Dana’s hefty range, and haunting climactic chorus to give it an entirely different mood than anything the band has ever written before, and it shines bright as a diamond amongst what is already a great album.
And hey, if we’re talking big moments, then I cannot go without mentioning Courtney LaPlante’s massive feature on the closing track, ‘The Ride.’ Courtney has certainly kept herself busy with features lately, but this is perhaps the best one yet. Throughout the song’s gut-punching first half, she lays low with some airy, lingering backing melodies, before exploding into a fiery wrath on the song’s first breakdown. Without her, ‘The Ride‘ is great enough already, yet Courtney’s feature adds so much more substance and a higher replay factor.
Lyrically, ‘Passenger’ dives into the world of identity (‘Side Effect‘), loss of control, and ambivalence. Your life is a car, but instead of being behind the wheel, you’re in the passenger seat, unable to reach and steer it in the direction you need. There’s an overarching theme that runs through most, if not all of the songs, telling the story of a man who’s lost his way, having a hard time remembering who he once was. Reinforcing the record’s mindset that you are no longer in control of your own life, as if you’re standing by, watching from the sidelines.
‘Night Shift’ describes this in vivid detail, with lines like “fading into the dead of night, my reflection has black ice on either side. This isn’t my design; I’m just along for the ride, holding on for dear life” painting the picture of someone who feels completely disconnected from their own life. Elsewhere, ‘Wayfinder’ follows a more philosophical approach to the same theme, with Dana delivering brilliant lines like “are we blindly searching for meaning of who we are? We are passengers, the roads we take call us home.” Kingdom of Giants have always had great lyricism supporting their riffs and breakdowns, but it’s refreshing to hear them follow through on an overarching theme throughout an entire LP.
Regardless, there’s one thing that holds this album back for me. Actually, it’s a single song. To be blunt, ‘Bleach’ has no place on this album in its current form. With an obviously different mix on this track, it sticks out like a sore thumb, acting as a major hiccup in an album that has an otherwise seamless flow. If it had been maybe remastered to fit in with the rest of the record sonically, it may have a much bigger niche to fill. Alas, its addition does nothing but take me out of what is an incredibly solid metalcore experience.
‘Passenger’ is the ideal Kingdom of Giants record. It’s exactly the record I’ve wanted them to make for years, and now that it’s here, it hasn’t disappointed. So much so that it’s one of my favourite albums of 2020, strongly weaving djenty metalcore, textured synthesisers, polished heaviness, and well-written vocal melodies alike together. Leaving their more upbeat metalcore sound behind, and even though this is definitely not the most unique style, the U.S. group arrive at a sound that works perfectly for them. ‘Passenger’ has almost all of Kingdom of Giants best songs; from the punchy ‘Night Shift,’ to the crowd-moving, anthemic ‘Burner,’ to the highly emotional ‘Lost Hills.’ Barring one song, Kingdom of Giants have nailed this kind of generic metalcore songwriting formula, solidifying themselves as a legitimate force to be reckoned with in an otherwise stale scene. This is how you take the overly familiar and make it engaging.
‘Passenger’ is out Friday, October 16th: