Kings of Mercia – Kings of Mercia (Metal Blade Records)

Friday, 23rd September 2022
Rating: 8.5 / 10

Never one to slow down in the creativity department, Jim Matheos may consider Fates Warning his main outlet over the decades, but he’s also added projects like Tuesday the Sky plus Arch/ Matheos to the plate. Last year he started developing the material that would become Kings of Mercia – seeking out the best musicians to fit this heavy/hard rock roots style with help from trusted industry veterans. Enter singer Steve Overland, best known for his work in UK outfit FM, fellow Fates Warning bassist Joey Vera, and ex-Toto drummer Simon Phillips – all pushing their best abilities forward on this self-titled debut record. And what listeners can expect is a fairly straightforward, honest approach to heavy rock with a host of 80’s/90’s influences that traverse everything from AOR to alternative/grunge aspects – ten tracks that pull at a groove/hook-oriented platform with sincere depth and heart-warming performances.

The dynamic calm to heavy transitions during “Sweet Revenge” make this cut an early standout – Joey hitting on thick, stunted bass lines while the main riffing has an Alice in Chains/ King’s X atmosphere, encouraging Steve to belt out some high, bluesy melodies. Simon’s steady tempo mechanics along with the brightness of his tasteful fills blossom on “Set the World on Fire” – Jim driving his uplifting guitars in highway ready mode as the ear-pleasing harmony-fueled chorus should get many toes tapping. Older 70’s nuances appear in the half-acoustic ballad “Too Far Gone”, the emotive lead break plus West Coast/southern-style swagger intriguing over the course of this six-minute plus arrangement. The layers present fit the needs of each individual song – where the musicians emphasize the main parts to grow organically without stepping out of bounds, as “Nowhere Man” and “Is It Right?” achieve through push/pull interplay, clean/electric contrasts, plus shimmering vocal melodies/harmonies in all the key sequences. By the time the 45 minutes playback time has concluded, most will be hard pressed not to return right to the energetic opener “Wrecking Ball” to start the listening engagement over immediately.

Hopefully Kings of Merica will not be merely a one-off project, as they’ve gotten off to a blazing start. Only time will tell – but at this point, those who love the talent on display in more of a palatable, heavy/hard rock context will enjoy this material the most.

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