After escaping the icy clutches of the Kingdom of Snow, Kingdom find themselves thrust into the Kingdom of Change. As the thunder rolls, lightning strikes, and ashes fill the sky, Dann once again ascends the throne.

Kingdom’s newest album, History of Kingdom, Part IV. Dann features the leader of the group portraying Dangun, the founder of Korea’s first kingdom, Gojoseon. He is seen as the progenitor of the Korean people, and is the offspring of Hwanung, the divine son of the God of the Heavens (Hwanin).

Born from Hwanung and a mortal woman, Dangun later established Gojoseon and ruled until he was deified as the Mountain God at the age of 1,908. However, while there are certainly elements in the MV that suggest Dangun as a key figure, Kingdom seem to be drawing on another historical figure as well. This dark retelling incorporates the story of the boy-king Danjong.

Danjong was, by comparison, a young boy-king that took the throne after his mother died in childbirth and his father followed soon after. His reign would to be short-lived though after he was forced to step down and then banished by his own uncle. Separated from his young wife and everyone he had known except for a sole loyal court official and some palace women, Danjong would ultimately be strangled following a failed poisoning.

According to legend, Danjong’s murder cursed his uncle, Sejo. After awaking from a haunting dream vision, Sejo awoke to find his eldest son (and the crown prince) dead. The next string of magistrates would also meet their peril until one made a sacrifice to the young boy’s grave and wrote an elegy upon him. While this story could be seen as a healthy mix of legend and history, similar portrayals of darkness and betrayal can be found throughout Kingdom’s History of Kingdom: Part IV. Dann.

The epic introduction “Intro: Palace” acts as a soundscape for the time and place Part IV. Dann takes place: Joseon era Korea. Beginning with pounding drums, traditional instruments like the haegeum, and strings, the introduction quickly reaches a fever pitch with a loud brass glissando and accelerating drum beats. The pace quickens and builds tension until a crisp “shing” like a sword slice halts the momentum. The sounds of cicadas slowly fade in, accompanied by a lone gayageum, before gently dissolving into silence.

The following track “Ascension” serves as the title track as well as much of the conceptual foundation for the album. The styling, instrumentation, and setting suggest the members are thrust back into the last dynasty of Korea complete with Hanok village scenes, Pansori, and Joseon styled Hanbok.

The MV opens with Dann under a dark, ash-filled sky observing a siege of the palace, and the lyrics highlight a “dark night” with a harrowing struggle between two forces. The members express their intent to “burn it all” and “turn everything back” to how it was. However, contrary to the ill-fated end of Danjong or Dangun, Kingdom are taking their place back on the throne in the Kingdom of Change.

To add to the story, the lyrics are written in an old style of Korean and include pansori vocal syllables mimicking the sounds produced by drums, especially from the folk song “Taepyungga” (Niliriya ninano). These elements give the song a unique character that perfectly blends elements of pansori with the intensity of modern production and midi composition.

Much like previous videos, the members are seen sporting opposite aesthetics with both dark hanbok and light, pastel colored ones but without clear connections to the time-traveling narrative they’ve been building through Part II. Chiwoo and Part III. Ivan. The meta versions of themselves in Part IV. act more like doubles, sometimes directly mirroring the same shot in a different color scheme.

In addition to the evocative and exciting music, the choreography features elements of modern dance and the traditional dance style Seungmu. Originating from Buddhist tradition, Seungmu utilizes long sleeves to create beautiful imagery and choreography. These sections of the dance are most clearly seen in their live stage performances than the actual MV. The addition of elements of seungmu and images formed from long ribbons used by the backup dancers is really quite beautiful, culminating in an engaging performance.

All the B-sides on the album, excluding “The Song of Dann (Promise),” add little to the narrative presented in “Ascension,” but they are enjoyable, diverse, and still manage to sound (mostly) connected to each other sonically. “The Song of Dann (Promise)” is the only other track that draws on the traditional instrumentation introduced in the intro and “Ascension” It acts as a ballad, and the instrumentals create sweeping, beautiful melodies to support Kingdom’s clear vocal lines. It was promoted alongside “Ascension,”, sharply contrasting the intensity of the title track.

The complimentary tracks “Blinder” and “Illusion” play with dichotomies of dark and light as metaphors for love. The former song, “Blinder” is an upbeat, flirty love song that encourages listeners to let go of their cares and don “blinders” and live in the moment. The music that accompanies it is equally fun and carefree with funky synth bass and acoustic guitar in the forefront of the sound.

By contrast, “Illusion” is an evocative synth pop love anthem. With an addicting synthesizer melody akin to The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and silky-smooth falsetto vocals, the members describe a hopeless and dangerous love story. Despite their lover being described as “like a red rose, hiding sharp thorns,” Kingdom remained blinded by love. They urge the listener to “take [them]” so that they can “prove in the midnight” that their “heart hidden by the moonlight shines,” and the overall effect of the song is arresting, pulling the listener into a forbidden romance.

The last song “Appetite” takes the sensual allure of “Illusion” and kicks it up to eleven. Beginning with a lively funk electric bass lick, this track exudes passion. With lyrics like “let me fill your appetite,” “come and melt into my fingertips,” and “I’ll fill in even the smallest gaps” it breathlessly draws the listener in. These erotic lyrics coupled with the prevalence of rock instrumentation make “Appetite” a driving and sexy addition to the album.

Kingdom’s album History of Kingdom: Part IV. Dann sees the members thrust back into Joseon era Korea and into a story full of intrigue and danger. While the meta-version, time travel plot seems to have taken a turn, the beautiful cinematography, styling, and artistic depth remains just as impressive. The next album features Louis as the protagonist in the Affair of the Poisons, so I’ll be eagerly awaiting his time in the spotlight next!

(YouTube: [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10]. Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Culture: [1][2], Korea Times [1][2], Visit Korea, (Talk Talk Korea), Britannica. Translations via foolmeg. Images via GF Entertainment)