Review Summary: “Brave the fear in the your mind, walk into the afterlight"
If there’s one thing that can be said about Crown the Empire, it’s that they sure do have ambition. Since their creation in 2010, the Dallas-based group have never had trouble pushing their limits as a band, as evidenced by their first two albums, The Fallout
and The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways
. Both concept albums, they encompass one singular story laden with excessive theatrics, huge catchy choruses and massive string arrangements; no small task for a new band with members just entering their 20s. These albums were no strangers to success either, with the latter landing the #1 spot on iTunes and a top 10 spot on the Billboard. However, despite their early success it became clear that Crown the Empire weren’t fully satisfied with the work they’d previously put out. The Resistance
was a result of the band feeling trapped by fans who expected a continuation of not only the overblown story, but also the “risecore” sound of The Fallout
; and while it succeeded in satisfying those fans, the album felt noticeably forced and unnatural, and not representative of the music that Crown the Empire wished to make. When the time came to record their third album, the band decided to scrap the concept of their previous records entirely, burn it to the ground and start from scratch. Out of the ashes of this reinvention comes Retrograde
definitely marks a turning point for CTE, elements of their old sound still remain. In ‘Lucky Us’ the band is as heavy as they’ve ever been, with co-vocalists David Escamilla and Andy Velasquez’ back and forth singing/screaming meshing together perfectly. Standout tracks ‘Hologram’ and ‘Aftermath’ contain the best choruses this band have ever written, showing that they still have a penchant for mixing heavy moments with catchy and powerful hooks. Meanwhile, lead single ‘Zero’ sounds like a more mature and refined version of the band’s older work. In fact, most of the first half of the record would not sound out of place on The Resistance
. The theatrics that Crown is known for also remain, albeit more toned back, allowing for the ambitious theatrical elements to still be present without suffocating the actual music. Retrograde also sees CTE explore a new “space” theme, with cues being taken from films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey
, rather than the 1984
and Brave New World
influence seen on their previous albums. This theme of space and exploration of the unknown is fitting for the band’s new sound, and feels far more natural than any of their previous discography.
Plenty of experimentation can also be found within the latter half of Retrograde
. The alt-rock style of ‘Signs of Life’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ is not dissimilar to bands such as Thirty Seconds to Mars, with Escamilla dropping his trademark screams entirely, instead using his much improved singing voice to perfectly complement Velasquez. The arena-ready ‘Weight of the World’ is the group’s take on pop rock, and they keep it interesting with swing influenced verses and a massive sing-along chorus. Album closer ‘Mercury’ is a perfect showcase of the band’s new sound, standing as the most interesting and possibly best track on the record. The song is pushed forward by a powerful riff from bassist Hayden Tree, and also contains yet another fantastic chorus, with just enough heaviness to end the album on a powerful note. Retrograde
’s most glaring misstep comes in the form of the stripped back ‘Oxygen’, with a disappointing hook and overdone vocal effects that are more distracting than appealing. Songs such as ‘For Days’ and the aforementioned ‘Signs of Life’ are far better at showing off the softer side of Crown. Despite this, Retrograde
as a whole still achieves its purpose as a successful reinvention of the band’s sound. The album keeps the best elements of their older music intact, while cutting out the unnecessary bells and whistles and introducing plenty of brand new ideas. With Retrograde
, the band have made one thing clear; Love it or hate it, this is the true Crown the Empire, and they don’t plan on leaving any time soon.