KINGS OF MERCIA (Steve Overland) – Kings Of Mercia (2022) *HQ*
KINGS OF MERCIA is ready to release their debut “Kings Of Mercia” on Metal Blade Records, and what a debut album. This is a terrific super group formed by Fates Warning founding guitarist Jim Matheos, impressive FM’s vocalist Steve Overland, behind the drum kit is the legendary Simon Phillips (ex-Toto and et all), while rounding out the group is bassist Joey Vera – Matheos’ Fates Warning bandmate – who brings his trademark style and professionalism to the table.
What a line up… and what a killer stuff we find into “Kings Of Mercia” first record.
In early 2021, Matheos started working on the songs that would become Kings Of Mercia’s self-titled debut album, bringing his distinct style yet doing something a little different. “I really liked the idea of going back to my early hard rock roots.”
And indeed folks, “Kings Of Mercia” is classic hard rock crafted with fantastic performances from all talents involved.
With Fates seemingly done (at least as far as new recordings go), Matheos took stock of his options. His first move was to create some relatively straightforward, at least for him, hard rock songs in demo form. Once Overland laid his bluesy/AOR vocal melodies on top they added bassist Joey Vera (Fates Warning/Armored Saint) and legendary drummer Simon Phillips (Toto, etc) to the mix.
On paper it sounds like such a weird pairing – a prog metal musician and an AOR voice, but when the magic of combining it all together occurred true magic really happened.
I was curious as to how the usual dour Matheos and the usual positive vibe of Overland was going to work out. Once I heard the album, I can almost envision Jim smiling a couple of times during recording, because not only does this album kick ass, but it too has a very up-tempo feeling not often found in the bulk of Jim Matheos’ other recordings.
On the lead-off track “Wrecking Ball”, those familiar with FW will recognize Matheos’ signature guitar style right out of the gate. Overland’s vocal comes in smooth as honey with just the right amount of grit to make it interesting. His vocal harmonies throughout & his high tenor voice have the makings of pure AOR magic.
On track 2, “Humankind”, he sounds like a heyday Paul Rogers yet with crisp, tight & modern production.
Matheos is well known in progressive rock circles for his heavy, yet complex riffs. It would be an oversimplification to just call Kings of Mercia “hard rock”… AC/DC this is not. Certainly you can tap your toe to it (without losing the beat!) but it also has a drive to it that gets better with each listen of the album.
Unsurprisingly, his guitar solos blaze & really stand out and contrast well with the more blues-rock vocals.
Songs like “Liberate Me” and “Set The World On Fire” are perfect examples of what this band is capable of creating. Driving bass/drum/guitar rhythms, super catchy choruses and, on the latter, even a touch of electronics that Matheos is known to dabble in.
“Too Far Gone” starts & ends as a ballad but morphs into a mid tempo rocker that wouldn’t be out of place on a Journey or Foreigner record. “Everyday Angels” is as beautiful a ballad as I’ve heard in years & “Your Life” arrives to close the album with an almost Zeppelin-esque bombast. It’s an inspiring call to the listener to take charge – “this is YOUR life!”.
It should be noted that the rhythm section really holds down the grooves throughout the album. Joey Vera has a bit of that angry bass sound that he’s so good at coaxing from his instrument. Simon Phillips, who has played w/ Steve Hackett, Asia, Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Derek Sherinian, The Who & about 900 other bands, perfectly plays what each song needs.
Overland shines in a different light as well, showing off his chops in ways he hasn’t before, something we are discovering with other projects he’s involved, like Loneride. His performance is powerful, bluesy & melodic with a deep rich tone that reminds of the best of Rainbow, Deep Purple, Bad Company and even latter-day Europe.
Kings Of Mercia has signed a 3 album deal with Metal Blade records. By all accounts this is a full blown band and not just another one-off super group or project. This band truly is a hybrid: it’s heavy, but not metal. It’s got tones of AOR / melodic hard rock, but with an edge.
This is an amazing record, with the potential to be huge if it gets the right push. This is making it even tougher to figure out what will top my list later this year.
Definitely a very promising debut album & we can only hope there will be many more in the years to come!
01 – Wrecking Ball
02 – Humankind
03 – Sweet Revenge
04 – Set the World on Fire
05 – Too Far Gone
06 – Liberate Me
07 – Nowhere Man
08 – Everyday Angels
09 – Is It Right?
10 – Your Life
Steve Overland: Vocals
Jim Matheos: Guitar
Joey Vera: Bass
Simon Phillips: Drums