I’ve always loved concept albums. Besides being a music fan, I have written my fair share of poetry and fiction, and I’ve found concept albums to be so awesome because they are like a musical novel or book of short stories.
That’s why I was so excited when I discovered Los Angeles-based quartet Vitskär Süden and its new album, The Faceless King. Along with being an excellent album musically, the mythos and story the band tells on its sophomore album are immersive and perfect for fans of gothic and cosmic horror, Lord of the Rings, or any other type of Dungeons and Dragons nerdom (and I mean that in the best way possible because I, too, am one of those nerds).
Bassist/vocalist Martin Garner and drummer Christopher Martin have played music together for over two decades, and they’re joined by guitarists Julian Goldberger and TJ Webber in Vitskär Süden. The band’s music draws on heavy psych and prog-rock elements, but it also incorporates an ambient sound and touches of gothic folk. Their self-titled debut album landed at No. 17 on Doom Charts’ best of the year list in 2020.
The Faceless King is an excellent follow-up, expanding on a dark fantasy concept and the origin story of the band’s anti-hero namesake (and who of us doesn’t enjoy reading/listening about anti-heroes nowadays?). Horror author Laird Barron is a fan of the band’s work, and according to their website, he describes the new album as “Gorgeous and sinister. Shoots images into my brain of blacklight posters of secret rites in lost, desecrated valleys performed while some bastard ’70s metal band croons a sword & sorcery drug rock accompaniment naming, song-by-song, a terrible thing that should remain nameless.”
About The Faceless King
The Faceless King is not a particularly long album, clocking in at just over 37 minutes, and during my listening of it, it seems to go by quickly. And that’s only because it feels like a great movie that has me on the edge of my seat.
The album starts with the tracks “The Way – Part 1” and “The Way – Part 2.” The music is cinematic, and the tension builds in Part 1 as Garner’s melodic vocals sing about the Faceless King. Part 1 is a slow burner, but then it seamlessly kicks into high gear with the second part and a gnarly riff. The feel of the songs, and the album in general, is very much haunting and eerie.
Next is “Archdiocese of Worms,” breaking in with a Desert/Stoner riff and feel. Garner sings, “Heard about a king/dragged him from the throne/they took his face away/left him by the road.” “Voices From Beyond the Wall” starts with a more ambient, spacious soundscape, perhaps the most melancholy song on the album. It continues the story of The Faceless King and his fall from grace.
The album closes with an epic climax in the last three tracks, beginning with “Shepherds on the Roadside.” I suggest following along with the lyrics for the optimal listening experience. “Bonedust and Dark” follows, opening with a guitar solo that reminded me of something from Pink Floyd. Finally, the album closes with “The Broken Crown,” an eight-minute-plus epic that closes the tale of The Faceless King (for now) with the ominous last lyrics, “The Faceless King, he calls.”
Not everyone will be enamored with The Faceless King, but this was an album I was glad I stumbled upon. The L.A.-based Vitskär Süden combine a plethora of elements into the tapestry of this cinematic sophomore record, ranging from Desert Rock to Stoner to the intricacies of Prog Rock. I think it’s all tastefully done and creates the type of high-art concept album I really dig.
I’m looking forward to what Vitskär Süden does next and how they continue to tell the tale of The Faceless King in their operatic style. This album is perfect for fans of Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Wovenhand, and others and will be a welcome addition to any Heavy Psych playlist.