Kingdom — the thoroughly moving new album from the Denmark-based ambient post-rock project A Reason To Travel — sounds like a solitary journey through fields of emotionally jarring wreckage. Pondering destruction can be anguishing — yet, in the end, the album also proves refreshingly illuminating.
Although the album title suggests regality, much of the grandiosity of the referenced kingdom within the world of the record has seemingly vanished by the end of its runtime. Gone are the court celebrations, gone are the stately structures, and gone are the triumphant returns from afar. There’s a shadow of what once stood — the melodies here often prove dramatic and quite compelling — but just about all that’s left is a chance for somber meditation on whether all of it stood for anything lasting at all.
The ambient elements of Kingdom frequently take over the mix, which helps cultivate the sense of a space for contemplation, as if standing alone in a grassy plain as a somehow light-bearing fog slowly builds. The music also often sticks to a relatively restrained (but persistent) pace, although an array of captivating flourishes unfold throughout the venture. When the energy slightly picks up, the music feels like an actual journey through some overgrown forest-surrounded ruins.
There are some noticeably bright moments unfolding throughout the venture, including on “Hubris,” which is also noticeably guitar-centric, but a blanket of shadowy sonic haze rolls in behind these elements, like an experience of suddenly noticing an ominous storm on a distant horizon while enthralled in a moment of — as the song title suggests — hubris. Moving through the smoothly presented contrast between the shimmering atmosphere and the stark undertow feels profoundly sobering, like a musical memento mori.
The music feels impressively expansive and at times seems like the soundtrack of a somber fantasy epic. As the boundaries within the songs seem to shift more in line with cloudy and disorienting emotion than rigid structures, the music also often feels at least somewhat surreal and dream-like, which expands the emotional impact. Every element proves quite expressive, with currents of passion running through the work.
There are no lyrics on Kingdom, but song titles follow the journey of a royal who begins with confidence before exiting in somber defeat. Album opener “Coronation” features slowly paced and contemplative riffing, with a relatively coarse atmosphere in the mix that expands a sense of metaphysical strain. Across the album as a whole, there’s a real sense of a personal perspective of what’s been lost. The songs prove underpinned by starkly forceful forward progressions — and at a couple points, including the closing track “Turmoil,” the drums pick up like a morbid processional — but the music remains dynamically pained.
Tracks including “Fleeting Bliss,” “They Will Tell Stories About You,” and “Equinox” feature prominently displayed ambient passages, with tones that frequently gradually grow in intensity. “They Will Tell Stories About You” breaks into a dramatically resounding end featuring a thick fog and slowly booming hits, like a crescendo of anguish as what had been built suddenly crashes to the earth.
The music is impressive for its whole runtime, providing richly nuanced looks at jarring destruction.
Listen to Kingdom from A Reason To Travel below!