Review Summary: Crown the Empire return and produce the best metalcore record of the last decade plus.
Dallas, TX metalcore quintet Crown the Empire has enjoyed both critical and commercial success the likes of which is often very bereft of most metalcore bands, especially those signed to Rise Records. They have boasted many strong suits, all of which have been evident since their genesis in 2010. Their dual lead dichotomy of Andy Leo and David Escamilla rivals just about any core group with a similar makeup. Known for the screamed verses, catchy sung choruses, high production value and arguably most notably - the story like theatrics that accompany both their live shows and their music videos. Saying goodbye to the concept works that were The Fallout
and The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways
, as well as former lead guitarist Benn Suede, Crown the Empire gives you Retrograde
, which is easily the best album of the group's still young career as well as the best metalcore record I personally have ever heard.
You could blame it on preexisting bias, seeing as Crown the Empire has been a favorite of mine; they are even the band responsible for me even liking metalcore, an otherwise generic and derivative genre. But I am genuinely blown away by how the group exceeded the expectations of detractors and fans alike. They've really honed their craft over the last two years; The Resistance
was a great album, but it definitely felt like the group was just trying to please the fans who marveled at the paradigm theatrics of The Fallout
. Crown the Empire has left all of that behind (the Johnny trilogy did not continue into this record) and this display of cunning ambition pays off in every way. Gone is the group that used dubstep on their first album and relied on the catchy choruses on their second. The new Crown the Empire is a group showing all the balance and experience needed to churn out a masterpiece.
Opening track "Sk-68" is a soft piano respite that transitions into the real opening track, "Are You Coming with Me." The album is a full speed ahead affair from the opening seconds; the chorus on the song features plenty of lead guitar from Brandon Hoover, plenty of audible bass from Hayden Tree, and Brent Taddie's fast paced drumming moves the chorus along. And then, of course, we have the highlight of the record as a whole - Andy and Dave's co-existence behind the microphone. I'd be pressed to find another pair of vocalists that perform as well together as Leo and Escamilla do. Escamilla has improved infinitely as a clean vocalist, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say he's better than Andy. The group as a whole do a great job coinciding and sharing their own moments under the sun. Their continuity is essentially unparalleled.
"Zero" is arguably the best song of the group's career thus far; alebit, the track follows a familiar Crown the Empire blueprint - screamed verse, sung chorus, repeat. But it doesn't feel stale like previous releases. Escamilla joins Leo for the choruses and the two of them are just on another level vocally. "Hologram" showcases how great a clean vocalist Escamilla has become, and longtime fans will be happy to know the uncleans haven't gone away with Retrograde
. The lyrics have also seen a significant touch up from past discography, particularly on the track "Aftermath" (Show with no mercy./Cause it cannot hurt me./The moment I bite my tongue./Tired of worthless fighting with purpose./No longer I will stay numb.)
Tracks like "Weight of the World" boast a lot of singalong value, so much in fact it will have familiar fans reaching for the replay button again and again. "The Fear is Real" is a rhythmic instrumental dance beat that will catch listeners from all sides very off guard; the longest transitional track that I think I've ever heard from a core group. Where "Weight of the World" touched base on the type of radio rock you saw from "Millennia" and "Second Thoughts" on the last album, you see some alternative and even poppier stylings on tracks like "Lucky Us" and "Signs of Life", the former of which sees a lot of uncleans from Escamilla, the latter of which sees none at all. The album throughout features an atmospheric space styling, a styling that is carefully placed in increments; kudos to the group for not letting that theme hijack the entire album, it makes for a very cohesive record.
Closing tracks "Oxygen" and "Kaleidoscope" particularly utilize the more atmospheric moments of Retrograde
. The latter track features one of best Crown choruses yet, Leo and Escamilla both giving the best vocal performances of their careers, and with that, Retrograde
draws to a close. This record is nothing short of incredible, is easily the album of the year so far, by my estimation at least. The real Crown the Empire has finally arrived, making the music they want to make. Even hardcore fans of the concept theatrics of their last two albums are sure to fall in love with this latest consummation. Cheers to the best group in metalcore making the best metalcore album, quite possibly, of all time.