Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Crown "Death Is Not Dead"




 The Crown Death Is Not Dead

(Century Media Records)

By: Chris Davison
           
Ah! The re-re-return of The Crown, one of the best bands of the late nineties and the early two thousands! To say that Sweden’s The Crown have had a tortured history is a slight understatement. Originally calling themselves Crown Of Thorns, the band released two albums under that monicker in the mid nineties before being forced to change names due to a christian band of the same name threatening a lawsuit (typical). It wasn’t until 1999’s Hell Is Here opus that I jumped on board, their first album as The Crown. It was their next album, the tremendous Deathrace King, that would see them hone their sound; an unholy mix of ultraspeed thrash metal riffs, Motörhead attitude and death metal rhythm section

Following the success of Deathrace King however, things started to go a bit…well, wrong. 2002 saw none other than former At The Gates frontman Tomas Lindberg replace Johan Lindstrand on the vocals for Crowned In Terror, which was also a brilliant album, but without the defining vocals of Lindstrand, not quite the band which I had come to love. 2003 saw the release of Possessed 13, once more reunited with Lindstrand, a greatly underrated piece of work,with a balls-out early Metallica/ Motörhead thrash inspired sound that completely seemed to slip under the metal radar. 

2004 saw Crowned Unholy, a remix of Crowned In Terror with Lindstrand on vocals and with redone guitars and drum sounds – which divided opinion, (and mightily pissed off Lindberg, as I recall), but to my ears at least, sounded much more like The Crown as a consequence. The final release from the classic line up was the triple DVD release 14 Years Of No Tomorrows, which I bought immediately, completely annoyed that such an excellent band had been ignored by so many people, and that they had slipped into ignominy.

A couple of spin-off bands happened – Marko, the riff-master of the group founded the dark metal outfit Angel Blake, who went on to have two albums, while Johan began One Man Army and the Undead Quartet – a raging thrash outfit who had four decent, if not Earth-shattering albums. In the meantime, The Crown reunited in 2010 – minus Lindstrand and with former God Macabre bassist Jonas Stahlhammer on vocals for the “comeback” album entitled Doomsday King, which in itself was a solid album, but again lacking the chemistry and magic of former The Crown releases.

Yet here in 2015, the main core of the band is back together – Lindstrand on vocals, Marko on guitars (and drums for the recording of the album, it seems), and Magnus on bass, joined here by Robin Sorqvist, of Impious. I honestly hadn’t been so excited for an album release in a very long time. How does it fare against the illustrious, if tempestuous discography of the band?

Reign” is the obligatory instrumental opener, a tune that is destined to play on the house PA before the band enter the stage. Brooding, dark and slowly paced, it has classic hints of menace before the real onslaught begins…

Headhunter” is a classic opening track from The Crown with an insistent drum beat giving way to one of those riffs, and the deafening roar of Lindstrand before the thrash begins. With the lighting speed guitar melodies alongside the urgent bass work, it’s no surprise that this should be the first single from the album.


“Iblis Bane” shows the swagger and assurance of a band that knows that it can hold its head with the best in the death/ thrash genre. “Acquiring” the melody from Carl Orf’s “O Fortuna”, (though you may know it better from The Omen or from UK “Old Spice” adverts of the seventies!) before the raging chorus, this is a mischievous rager that even manages to shoe horn in a mid-paced, reflective middle section, no doubt so that the crowd can show their approval for the flashy guitar theatrics.

Eternal,” a cover of the Paradise Lost classic from their magum opus, Gothic, is up next. The Crown, of course, are no strangers to cover versions, having covered Slayer’s “Mandatory Suicide” on Slatanic Slaughter Vol.1, and Sepultura’s “Arise” from Sepultural Feast, both compilation albums. An eye raising choice, perhaps – a track from a gothic doom/death band, but one that works particularly well. It’s certainly a slower pace for the Swedes, but one that has more menace and punch than the original, and manages to inject some of their own personality into a classic.

Struck By Lightning” manages to increase the tempo again, with an absolutely stomping main riff that produces involuntary head-nodding. Neat semi-Egyptian sounding riffs erupt here and there in the background, themselves seemingly influenced by the introductory riff to Death’s seminal “Zombie Ritual.” When the band settle into a period of pounding mid-tempo riffing around two minutes in, there is a natural tendency to wait for the raging finale, bit frustratingly it doesn’t arrive until the last forty seconds or so, when the track briefly gets to stretch its legs to the finishing line.

“Speed Kills (Full Moon Ahead)” is, as you might expect, a head-down thrasher, with a macabre atmosphere courtesy of the twisting main riff and percussive bass playing. When the chorus fully erupts, Lindstrand’s voice reminds the listener that he is the definitive sound of The Crown’s vocal delivery.

Herd of Swine” turns up the tempo of the album, with perhaps the fastest drum beat of the band’s career, and some pretty frantic old school beats being smashed. Among the tracks on the album, despite the hectic speed and no-compromises approach to songwriting, this sounds most like one of the more forgettable outtakes from Deathrace King. That’s not to say that it’s a bad track – not at all; in fact I like the Hanneman-esque chops of the guitar on the brooding slower sections in the middle of the track, rather than the less remarkable light-speed blur of the introduction.

Horrid Ways” almost invites comparison to The Haunted in the swaggering, muscular guitar chops and groovy interplay between the axes. It’s certainly The Crown at their most modern sounding, though certainly to my ears the weakest song on the album.

Ride to Ruin” comes clattering out of the speakers like a strung-out Motörhead with their pants on fire. With a don’t-care attitude and a rock n’ roll beat, this is certainly a track that would fit right at home with the sadly underappreciated “Possessed 13” album. It’s a track that’s guaranteed to put a smile on all but the stoniest of faces.

Meduseld,” which Wiki tells me was a city of Rohan in the Lord Of The Rings tales, is a five-minute instrumental workout, which has no small amount of atmosphere, and some tasteful guitar effects that give it a really cool early Amorphis vibe – think a lengthy and updated track from their classic Elegy album to give an indication of the sound.

Godeater” closes proceedings with a gusto. “GOOOOOOOOD-EAAAAATAH!!!” exclaims Lindstrand with a throaty bellow. This has some massive, twisted riffs and tortured rhythms, coming off like the bastard son of Domination-era Morbid Angel and Low-era Testament, with the trademark punked-up attitude of The Crown.

As you would expect, this has a really impressive, punchy and clear production that manages to give each instrument equal billing, with a particular nod to the low-end of the guitars and the grunty, pummeling bass. Is this the album that The Crown fans have been waiting for? Possibly not. It’s slower than they may have been expecting, (though I would argue the better for it), and certainly less single-minded than some of their former albums. I consider this all the better – this is a more mature band, showing a broader range of their own and other influences, and doing what they want. So, while this may not be Deathrace King Mark 2, that’s certainly not what I wanted in any case. This is a perfect examination of their work to date, and an indication that as musicians, they are at the top of their game.

My verdict? Better than Doomsday King by some margin, and it belongs alongside their other works as a superior piece of art.


Editor: You can read my own take on Death Is Not Dead here at Heavy Metal at About.com. My take (or knowledge) is not nearly as thorough as that of Chris, but maybe I was a little too harsh in my review? You be the judge.

Clearing the decks of reviews...




A few "shorties"...




Volahn Aq'Ab'Al




Caïna Settler Of Unseen Shores



 


 

Monday, January 05, 2015

Anguish "Mountain"



Editor: The “holidays” are over and the metal flows once again. Chris gets us going with a holdover from last year that’s sure to get your trad/ doom juices flowing.

 
Anguish Mountain
 
(Dark Descent Records)

By: Chris Davison

First, an apology is in order to the gentlemen in Anguish. Sadly, my friends, my dissertation, and the festive season have somewhat delayed my review of this album. I hope you will come to forgive me. 
Anguish, as it turns out, are a four piece doom outfit coming at you by way of Sweden. This is their second full length, but the first piece of work I have had the good fortune to hear. They've made a bit of a splash with this release, including a hat-tip from the mighty Fenriz on his own personal “best of” 2014 list. Are these plaudits worth the acclaim?

Actually, yes, they are. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this album - being as it is rooted in the very orthodox vein as classic doom metal bands - most notably to my ears from their countrymen Candlemass in the downtuned, melancholic riffing. That being said, Anguish also betray some hints of the more ferocious and epic work of latter day Isole, while being savvy enough to have enough of their own identity to stand out from the hordes of merely acceptable doom bands.
 
The vocals of J. Dee, for example, will immediately mark this band out from their peers. He has a particularly hoarse voice - not unlike that of Crowbar's Kirk Windstein; that is, if Windstein had been smoking 60/ day for the last decade. Meanwhile, the twin guitars of Christoffer and David bring both the gritty steel and the polish in the form of rock-solid, infectious, mid-to-slow tempo riffery along with some accomplished melodic lead work. Anchoring the whole damn shebang is Rasmus with carefully crafted drum work that marries the clattering intensity of good doom drumming with some neat delicate touches from time to time.

In terms of songwriting, there's a whole lot of dynamism here to avoid that occasional trap of doom metal: monotony. There is a constant atmosphere that makes Mountain work as a cohesive work of art, but within are truly grim tracks such as "Master Of Peak's Fall" with its sound echoing hopelessness, while leaden stompers such as "The Woven Shield" are none the worse for their more straightforward take on the genre.

 

I haven't enjoyed a traditional doom metal album quite so much in a long time, which is, no doubt, in no small way indebted to the production, which manages to retain the heaviness while allowing for the rare flourishes of light, such as the Hammond organ and the tight cymbal work, to shine through the mix. An excellent show all round.


Let's also clear the decks of some leftover "shorties" at Heavy Metal at About.com



Skelethal Deathmanivcs Revelation

 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: Special Thanks...



You can find my posts on the best heavy metal albums of the year at both Heavy Metal at About.com and at Last Rites, respectively.

Special thanks…

… to Stephannie for putting up with my obsession, and to my brother Skull (and the Lady Skull Kelly).

My Los Angeles metal brethren (and great friends; all such wonderful people): Cosmo Lee, Aaron Lariviere (he’s never coming back, though), Robert Baggs, Farhaad Esfandiary, Mike Rivas, Adam L. Murray, and Kimberly Galdamez. A huge special thanks to their significant others (Katie, Emily, and Elise) for putting up with our nonsense.

Fellow writers (is this what I am?): Chad Bowar at Heavy Metal at About.com, Chris Davison, Josh Haun and Brandon Duncan at Backlit, Danhammer Obstkrieg, Jordan Campbell (ret.), Michael “Captain” Wuensch, Jeremy Morse, Jeremy Witt, Metal Matt Longo, Zach Duvall, Matt Mooring (ret.), Konrad Kantor, Marlo Reghenas, Erik Highter (ret.), and the rest of the entire crazy staff at Last Rites, Max Rotvel at Metal Bandcamp, Justin M. Norton, Tom Campagna, Ray Van Horn Jr., Metal Mark McKinney, Atanamar Sunyata,  Etan Rosenbloom, Andy O’Connor, and anyone else that I may have forgotten.

Faces in the crowd in the L.A. metal scene: Clint Mayher, Jeff Treppel, Jason Thomas, Christina Liebling, Andy Ford, Justin Lascelle (Axeslasher), Joseph Aprill, Andrew Melendez, Charles Elliot (Abysmal Dawn), Cris Griesbecht, Laura Christine, Elizabeth Schall, Ariella Spector, Gilad Rom, Adam Sperber-Compean, Stevie Ray Loveless, Jonathan Cronin, Yuri Kondra, Kieran Harden, Ronny Marks, Biko Wright, Farron Loathing, Courtney Kerzner, Jeremy, Chris, and Menno from Lightning Swords Of Death, Jose (a.k.a. MrFuneralism Khaos), Ian Chainey, Scott Carlson, Jimmy Cabbs, the Eternal Roadie, Thor Ryen (now by way of Norway), Matthew Schott, and William Ganley.

The photographers’ pit: Anna Hummell, Adrian Mejia, and Dirt Junior.

Label and PR people: Dave and Liz Brenner of Earsplit PR, Nathan T. Birk, Kim Kelly, Chase at Hells Headbangers Records, Chris at Profound Lore Records, Scott Alisoglu, Ryan Ogle, Ryan Feldman, Brian Rocha, John Freeman, Jon Asher, Paula Hogan at Candlelight, Enrique Sagarnaga at Season Of Mist, Heidi Ellen-Fitzgerald Robinson, Cat Jones and Ryan Avery at Southern Cross PR, Mark at Prosthetic, Vince at Metal Blade Records, Loanna at Nuclear Blast Records, Vinny at Willowtip Records, Calvin at Pulverised Records, Bob at Relapse Records, Nikki at Century Media Records, Matt at Dark Descent Records, and anyone else that I may have forgotten.

Others: Van Darden, Doug Moore, Rae Amitay, Julian Hollowell, James Genenz, Rick Hernandez, Tanner Anderson, Nick Nunns, Joseph Schafer, and Miguel “Goregrinder” Medina.

Always a special thanks to my students, the current and the legions of the former, for putting up with their weird physics teacher, anyone who plays in a metal band and has devoted their life to perpetuating this art form, anyone else that I forgot (apologies), and, last but certainly not least, YOU, for stopping by!

As always,

Cheers!