by Jacob Wingate-Bishop

The world of power metal quaked last week as Thomas Winkler (ex-lead singer of fantasy metal band Gloryhammer) released his first project since being fired from the band in August 2021, under the name ‘Angus McSix’. Angus McSix and the Sword of Power seeks to distance itself from the world forged in Gloryhammer’s records, uniting the titular hero with new companions, new enemies and new adventures. Deep down, though, it’s a lot of the same, and allows Winkler to once again deliver piercing notes and thunderous choruses.

In case you’re lost on the backstory of Angus McFife (the role of Winkler whilst in Gloryhammer), now Angus McSix, allow me to explain briefly. In Gloryhammer’s debut album, 2013’s Tales from the Kingdom of Fife, Angus, Prince of Fife (yes, that Fife) is forced to go on a brave quest. Evil wizard Zargothrax (and his army of undead unicorns) destroys Dundee and kidnaps the innocent princess. Angus imprisons the malevolent sorcerer in a pool of ‘liquid ice’, but hundreds of years later, some other bad magic people (now in space!) bring about his resurrection. Zargothrax reigns supreme once more, but Angus – along with some eagles, space-knights and the Astral Dwarves of Aberdeen – has to stop him.

Thomas Winkler, in the role of Gloryhammer’s ‘Angus McFife’, at Razzmatazz, January 31, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Jordi Vidal/Redferns)

In the process, though, planet Earth is blown up by a neutron star, and Angus chases Zargothrax through a portal into another dimension. In Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex (Gloryhammer’s most recent full-length endeavour at time of writing), Angus finds himself in an alternate reality where evil is, you guessed it, in charge once again. McFife thwarts his enemy’s plan (is it the same Zargy from our reality? Is it this dimension’s one? Who knows?), but in the process is stabbed by the fabled ‘Knife of Evil’. To stop himself from turning bad, he throws himself into a volcano and promptly dies.

And there, that’s it. The very short and very simple history of Angus McFife. Except now he’s Angus McSix, and instead of saving the world from a maniacal magician hellbent on raising cain, he’s saving some other world from another wizard. Dragons are here once more. And a cool, ancient weapon. But enough of that, and back to the album itself.

It’s clear from the first two songs, ‘Master of the Universe’ and ‘Sixcalibur’ (lead singles from the album) that little has changed from the cheesy, cliché Gloryhammer formula. Dark wizards, goblins, poor English and symphonic power metal. It’s all there. But where the album really finds its feet is ‘Laser-Shooting Dinosaur’ – a track of ridiculous proportions, that’s possibly Power’s best.

Owing much to ‘Universe on Fire’ – a cut from Gloryhammer’s second effort, Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards – it’s pure techno meets metal, a kind of sonic abyss where Winkler really shines. The two genres meld together until you’re left scratching your head, thinking, ‘Is this even metal anymore? I don’t know, but who cares?’

In fact, Angus McSix and the Sword of Power is similar in sound to much of Space 1992, building on the more ‘stripped-back’ approach of the ex-band’s debut. It’s all digital, a bit synthy, wandering into Sabaton or Beast in Black territory more than once.

‘Amazons of Caledonia’ is an especially grand step for McSix, and ‘Ride to Hell’ could have quite easily been a single, with thumping chorus and clattering drum work. We’re blessed with planet-wide battles and time jumps in ‘Starlord of the Sixtus Stellar System’, but sadly that’s when the album begins to falter. Sword of Power falls into that age-old hole of a weak second side. ‘Eternal Warrior’ is listenable, but more of a Beast in Black B-side than anything. There’s some magic to ‘The Key to Eternity’, but it really is what you’d get if you fed every power metal song ever written into an AI and waited ten minutes for the result. It’s not bad, but it’s no ‘Sixcalibur’ – one of the most enthralling tunes of the year.

Vinyl and CD copies of Angus McSix and the Sword of Power (2023). (Photo credit: Jacob Wingate-Bishop)

Sebastian ‘Seeb’ Levermann’s hand in the production is clear as day on ‘In a Past Reality’, sounding more like Orden Ogan – the German melodic heavy metal band for which Levermann fronts – than even Orden Ogan do. But perhaps that’s for the best. The album shouldn’t be seen as another Gloryhammer record. Winkler has gone his own way, and that means letting in some other influences for a change.

‘Fireflies of Doom’ makes a catchy closer, but it’s nothing on the Steinman-esque epics we’re used to when it comes to the valiant prince of Fife (a location that, it should be noted, is sadly absent from any of the songwriting. In fact, Scotland as a whole takes a backseat on Angus McSix). Except it’s not really the closer of the album at all.

‘Just a Fool Will Play Tricks on Angus McSix’ is listed as a ‘bonus track’, despite being present on all releases. It’s even listed as the sequential finale of the record’s storyline, and – credit where it’s due – it’s a fun little bow out. It certainly knocks ‘Wizards’ – a bonus closing track on some pressings of Tales from the Kingdom of Fife – out the water.

As for the story of the story itself, it’s a major downgrade from whence Winkler came. At least on Gloryhammer’s first three albums, you could kind of keep up with which member of the band played who, what the antagonist was up to, what ancient relics were needed to complete the quest. On Sword of Power, it’s all a bit of a blur. We’re introduced to McSix wielding the titular blade (a reskin of his goblin-crushing hammer), then he’s riding a Dinosaur, next we meet the ferocious Amazons of Caledonia. Are we in the past? Is McSix back to life? What happened to all the stuff with Zargothrax?

I’m sure a lot of it is down to how much of the Gloryhammer trademark – and lore – Winkler owns, or is permitted to use. But the antagonist of this tale, another dark wizard by the name of Seebulon, is scarcely mentioned at all. You’d be forgiven for giving the record a spin in its entirety without ever realising there was a villain.

But then there’s the added obstacle that the track order isn’t in sequential order of the story. You have to open the ‘stereo booklet’ – included only in the CD release. Bad luck, old-school vinyl lovers – and piece together the true chronology of Angus McSix’s story. But why? All of Gloryhammer’s albums managed to start at the beginning, and end at, well, the end – some explosive, comical, ten-minute epic (a staple this album is sorely lacking). It makes the narrative of this concept album even weaker. Who knows what it’s about? Then again, who cares? Angus is wearing armour even cheaper and more impractical than the last suit, and the rest of the band still frolic in bear skins, capes and goat-skull staves.

But it’s a load of fun. It’s silly. It’s supposed to be. Thomas Winkler is a Swiss lawyer who, for a few weeks a year, gets to dress up as a heroic paladin and vanquish foes. It’s ridiculous, and all the better for not taking itself seriously. Power metal has always really been a parody of itself, most of all. There are some glorious hits in here, a few golden deep cuts (‘Ride to Hell’, ‘Just A Fool Will Play Tricks…’) and enough synth solos to scratch that particular itch in the brain. You can dance to this album, you can headbang to it. You can try and decode the plotline, or you can get lost in its age-old clichés. Sometimes that’s all music should be. Fun.