I’ve always been a huge fan of ROYAL HUNT, but with one caveat: the albums with D.C. Cooper fronting the band are all classics to me. The others, probably unfairly to John West, have never really measured up in my eyes and ears. When D.C. came back to the band in 2011, I went fanboy all over the place, and I was not at all disappointed. While not being quite as awesome as Paradox, Show Me How to Live and A Life to Die For were still really good and filled the void that I had been feeling since his departure a decade and a half previous.

With XIII – Devil’s Dozen (August 21 via Frontiers Music) ROYAL HUNT has once again delivered an album that’s mostly worthy of the band’s lineage. This is another good slice of progressive-meets-power-meets-melodic metal, with just the right mix of the different genres to produce the unique sound that I’ve always associated with the band. It appeals to the prog-lite part of me, as well as the power metal love that dominates my being. It also throws in some hooky choruses that won’t let go.

D.C. Cooper is in fine voice, as always, and I appreciate the way that he’s generally toned down his screams to an occasional reserved appearance, rather than a more common occurrence (ala early SILENT FORCE). I’ve really started to appreciate the full range of his voice over the last decade, and his performance on Devil’s Dozen really showcases it.

Andre Andersen’s keyboards and orchestrations are complex and entertaining as always, and Jonas Larsen’s guitar work is excellent, with some really good solos. Nothing groundbreaking, but it sounds really good. The rhythm section is solid, with Andreas Passmark on bass and Andreas Habo Johansson (drums) keeping a solid and unassuming beat.

The problem? The songs themselves are good. Not great, but good. Outside of the guitar solos (especially on “Until The Day” and “A Tear In The Rain”) and some fun keyboard work, the music just doesn’t blow me away. The lyrical writing and the vocals really elevate them, but when it comes down to it, they don’t really excite me, and that’s an important part of music like this – I need that intimate connection that I’ve come to expect from ROYAL HUNT, and it’s just not here on this one.

But, when all is said and done and all of the moving parts are considered, it’s still a really good album, and any fan of ROYAL HUNT or D.C. Cooper is going to love this. It’s certainly accessible to new listeners, but it’s going to be a bit of an acquired taste. Give it a shot – you may be surprised.

STANDOUT TRACKS: “Way Too Late”, “May You Never (Walk Alone)”, “Until The Day”, “Riches To Rags”

RATING: 8/10


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