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.
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