How does one go about reviewing a band that practically opened the door to an entire scene of music for you? This is the conundrum I was struggling with while waiting for the press copy of aKING’s brand new album Morning After to be sent to me. This is the band that opened me up to every other South African band that I listen to. Their debut album Dutch Courage remains to-date one of my favourite albums. aKING is a band that practically shaped the modern South African rock scene. From day one their melancholic brand of brooding pop-rock captured the hearts of South African music lovers and this has seen the band headline nearly every major festival and has even gained them an international following.
The wait for aKING’s new album was a long one. Well, it was only a two year wait since their previous album The Red Blooded Years but the lack of live shows between the two releases made the wait feel like an incredibly long time as other bands crept their way onto the scene and aKING took a seat in the shadows. Now aKING have decided to step out of the shadows and present themselves in all their glory. A major worry that numerous fans had was that the band would release something that strayed completely away from their roots – as most bands tend to do on their third or fourth album – but aKING disproved every single doubt that fans could have possibly had. They returned completely on form and honestly, sounding better than they have sounded before.
Morning After opens with the rock ‘n roll racket of “Prey For Birds” before the song settles into the trademark brooding energy of aKING on the main verses while kicking up the tempo on the chorus. Laudo Liebenberg’s instantly recognisable voice weaves it away through catchy pop melodies and gritty guitar riffs with Jaco “Snakehead” Venter showing off his talents behind the drum kit. “Mother” further extenuates the brooding and melancholic energy of aKING while also showing off their rock-star status as Liebenberg and Andrew Davenport throw out some mean guitar riffs. Liebenberg shows off his usual talent for song writing by delivering some delicately crafted lyrics like “You can pray for me mother/ you can lead me to the gate/ but it’s our nature to deviate”.
Lyrics have always been one of aKING’s strongest features and are possibly the reason why they stand out from all other bands as they have managed to combine terrific musicianship with beautifully crafted lyrics that lean heavily on the poetic and profound. In his typical crooning fashion he delivers the lines of “Cocaine war stories/ Make up for being boring/ Watch the scars come out tonight” on “Way You Move”. The rest of the album is peppered with such lyrical gems such as “A fairytale end / sings us to death” on “Far&Wide”. In “One Hit Wonder” you see Liebenberg struggling with an endless string of one night stands that possibly arises from his status as the front-man of aKING.
One of the stand-out songs on the album is found slap bang in the middle, and also happens to be the lead single of the album. It is a song that takes every element of aKING that makes them so phenomenal and puts it into one song. You are greeted with waves of brooding and melancholic energy superimposed the upbeat pop rock melody that comes off as the same melody used by Arctic Monkeys in AM. “New Start” hits you with upbeat hand claps and a lofty alt-pop sound which catch you off-guard as the melancholic and the utterly tragic lyrics. Once again Liebenberg’s song writing talents are shown off as he casually delivers lyrics like “Each of us are cut by a different knife” as he quite possibly reflects on not being entirely ready to throw himself back into the music scene.
In typical aKING fashion Morning After closes on the mournful “Loving Memory” which perches on the edge of a whispering guitar riff and wrapped in the distorted haze of a bass riff. It is a steady procession towards the end of the album and you’re left wrapped in a cloud of introspective thought. The final consensus of this album is that aKING has done it again. They have delivered something that has surpassed every expectation of what the album was going to sound like. They have created something that was created with the intention of being replayed countless times. If there was ever the belief that South African music was on a decline then this proves that statement to be false.