Kingdom of Sorrow would seem like a complementary project if all you did were read the rap sheets of founding members Jamey Jasta, of metalcore posterboys Hatebreed, and Kirk Windstein, of O.G. sludge crew Crowbar and N’Awlins supergroup Down. Hatebreed has always metallicized its hardcore assault, and Crowbar’s sludge was laced with hardcore beats and breakdowns from the beginning. But a successful collaboration involves some kind of give and take, and Kingdom of Sorrow doesn’t offer much compromise at all. Like Audioslave, this band is exactly the sum of its parts. The riffs sound like Windstein wrote ’em, the vocals and lyrics sound like Jasta sang ’em, and rarely does it get more exciting than that.
Lyrics aren’t Jasta’s strong suit with Hatebreed, and the pride, betrayal, and self-empowerment-themed soundbites on Kingdom of Sorrow are no different. Hackneyed phrases like “Trying not to let the hopelessness engulf me” from “Free the Fallen” are more functional than meaningful, working as vehicles for Jasta’s hardcore bark and as shout-along material for future tours. Jasta bungles “Screaming into the Sky,” a potentially heartfelt ode to a dead friend, with grade-school poetry and out-of-place aggression. And “With Unspoken Words” could be a decent metal ballad if it weren’t for a chamber of background whispers dragging it down — just one of Jasta’s many misguided attempts at copping Pantera/Down vocalist Phil Anselmo’s worst habits.
What little personality Kingdom of Sorrow evinces comes from Windstein, who knows his way around a planet-stomping metal riff. Forget that we’ve heard the same crunchy grooves since the early days of Crowbar and the same lead-footed, bluesy breakdowns of “Grieve A Lifetime” on all three Down albums — the economy and variety of Windstein’s riff-writing is the only thing that keeps this album afloat. Bassist Matthew Brunson and drummer Derek Kerswill (Unearth) hold down a solid rhythm section, and guitarist Steve Gibb (Crowbar, ex-Black Label Society) seconds Windstein with a natural sense of groove that you might expect from the son of a Bee Gee.
Maybe if Kingdom of Sorrow were created by unknowns or put out by a less reputable label than Relapse, or if it weren’t three years in the making, we could pass it off as a fun, lightweight metal album and call it a day. But Jasta and Windstein take themselves pretty seriously on Kingdom of Sorrow, down to the gothic band name and crusading knight on the cover, so the fact that they miss the mark is all the more disappointing. Kingdom of Sorrow isn’t horrible, but it sure doesn’t add anything to its founders’ legacies.