Review Summary: A road much less traveled.
Death metal’s arguably prettier cousin/offshoot melodeath has been the subject of either heavy praise or ridicule, depending on who one is talking to. The adherents tout the fact that it brilliantly merges extreme music with an accessibility more often associated with traditional and power metal, while the detractors point out that apart from the toneless and harsh vocal technique employed, the style bears no resemblance to its alleged roots, let alone the more extreme versions ushered in by Suffocation and a few others in the early to mid 90s. But for the early works of The Crown (formerly known as Crown Of Thorns), things take an interesting twist and the band actually succeeds in embodying the qualities sought after by both avid melodeath fans and members of the viler, more archaic clan.
While some have grouped this band in with the well known Gothenburg scene due to their country of origin (though they hail from a different city) and a somewhat similar sound to that of latter day At The Gates, The Crown’s powerful yet oddly under appreciated 2nd album is in a category all by itself. While definitely not out of step with the consonant contours in the guitar progressions also found in the early melodeath pioneers, the aggression and speed factor is much more pronounced. In other words, these guys were turning back the clock a few years when the ambiguity between death and thrash metal was still to be found amongst the likes of the Teutonic Trio, Possessed, middle era Death, and a few other bands mixing a somewhat more orthodox riff set for the late 80s thrash sound with a rougher vocal style.
Naturally, it should be kept in mind that while this band is more in line with the early transition of the death metal style into a somewhat more nuanced melodic character, that this album does not sound exactly like Death’s “Individual Thought Patterns” or Carcass’s “Heartwork”. It’s more of a sound that is linked with those albums, particularly the technical guitar tendencies of the former, but also cognizant of the power metal oriented character of the band’s contemporaries circa 1997. It also takes a few pointers from the extreme fringes of death metal by putting an emphasis on fast paced drumming, as much of the first half of this album contains blast beats aplenty and frequent shifts in beat with fills every 5 or so seconds, almost preempting the still yet to be fully discovered tech. death style that became much more pervasive in the next decade.
But perhaps the crowning element of this album (no pun intended) is the overall bleakness and rebellious character on full display. The level of fervor and aggression articulated in the vocal work alone is rivaled only by a number of black metal bands that had redefined the concept of morose just a few years prior, with fellow Swedish outfit Marduk probably being the most obvious comparison. Naturally the character of the guitar is a bit crunchier and the distortion is less fuzz driven, but songs such as “Beautiful Evil Soul”, “World Within” and “Kill (The Priest)” really bring home the chaotic carnage. A few other songs on here take a slower, solemner character, particularly “The Black Heart” which is the closest to this band sounding like a typical Gothenburg outfit, but the vast majority of this listens like a melodeath answer to “Persecution Mania” or “Pleasure To Kill”.
Words like essential or mandatory don’t quite say what is going on here, but for the purpose of summing things up, unique is the way to put it. None of the most noteworthy Swedish, Finnish, German or American bands representing this style have taken it in this direction, and The Crown themselves have since changing their name and going through a couple of different vocalists before bringing back the original. Often times the truly interesting albums come about in between eras where a particular approach to a style becomes heavily emulated, and while this came out in the midst of In Flames and Dark Tranquillity defining what we now know as the Gothenburg sound, this was looking back a few years prior when the death/thrash roots of the style were still largely present. In one respect it’s a shame that this album wasn’t more widely imitated, but at the same time, it’s uniqueness is the primary thing that puts it above much of the admittedly crowded and very popular scene that melodeath has become.
(Originally written for metal-archives.)