Review Summary: Once the most promising group in heavy music, Crown the Empire crashes and burns with their newest album.
This one hurts.
Crown the Empire are the
reason I fell in love with heavy metal, pop punk, alternative music and attended 5 Warped Tours. Their music shifted the course of my life as I knew it during my adolescent years. The Fallout
was an album that utterly mesmerized my teenage mind. I happily trekked forward with the group through their next pair of albums. The Resistance
readied them for big stadium histrionics and Retrograde
expanded their sound and positioned them to potentially lead their genre. But that was before everything fell apart.
In January 2017, co-lead vocalist and guitarist Dave Escamilla announced he was leaving Crown the Empire and with his departure, came some shocking revelations; Retrograde
had not been written by the band itself, the band was forbidden
from being in the studio to contribute to writing, and the 'rockstar' lifestyle had gotten to pretty much everyone in the group. Escamilla felt as though he was being paid to do a job, and that's not why he grew up wanting to be a musician. In good faith, he departed from the band. Their response? To publicly insinuate that Escamilla, by far their most talented member, had never contributed creatively to the group during his tenure.
And just like that, everything I believed to be true about Crown the Empire, as musicians and as people, faded into oblivion. It turns out they weren't stand up guys who wrote impassioned hooks about rebellion and revolution. They were paid shills that would sing whatever lyrics you slapped in front of them. It appears that trend continues with Sudden Sky
, their first album since Escamilla's departure. You, the listener, will come to find very quickly, that his absence is felt quite strongly throughout these ten tracks.
Album opener "(X)" is nothing more than some bland, cheesy speech from solo frontman Andy Leo, virtue signaling about being afraid and having questions unanswered. It does little to give the listener reason to hang on every word going forward and it's main purpose is to overwhelm you with electronic bells and whistles. Lead off single "20/20" relies heavily on this kind of composition, drowning out Leo's vocals and the live instrumentals under synths and choppy production. "What I Am" is a strong bounce back, as it proves Leo can still belt out a great chorus, but that may be the sole highlight on this album.
"Blurry (Out of Place)" tries to capitalize on its predecessor. This is a rare moment where the band succeeds at trying something new without being sporadic and abrasive about sprinkling in wintery basslines and wonky sound effects everywhere. Andy Leo has always been a great singer, and tracks like this work with him as the sole front of the group, but there's no hook to make this song as memorable as some of the group's past work. "Red Pills" shows signs of identity crisis with the group. The live, heavier instrumentals want to shine and bassist Hayden Tree tries his hand at screamed vocals, as he's done since Escamilla left. But he'll never come close to Escamilla territory.
Elsewhere, "MZRY" sees the band further overdosing on electronic noises and overly flushed out production value and "SEQU3NCE" is occupied by tired and uninspired nu-metal sensibilities. Hayden Tree's unclean vocals are laughably bad here, leaving the listener longing for the days when Dave Escamilla would bludgeon the listener while some God damn fun instrumentals backed him up. "March of the Ignorant" plays like a bad Twenty One Pilots ripoff and the album's closing title track does its best to end things on a strong note. Try as it may, Brent Taddie's solid drumming and Brandon Hoover's lead guitar can't compete with the band's heavier back catalog, and Andy Leo can't quite reach the heights his vocals saw before. With that, Sudden Sky
meets its end.
Suffice to say, this album is a mess. Every riff, every lyric, every note, it's all drowned out in gimmicky bells and whistles that fail to conjure up anything memorable. There's no creativity here lyrically, most of the songs looking like they were pulled out of a nu metal playback circa 2005. But the listener can take refuge in the fact that the band didn't write it themselves; Brendan Barone and some ghost writers take the blame there. It's sad to see how far Crown the Empire has fallen from what they were. It's also close to unconscionable to think how one member's departure could have such a ripple effect on what was to come next. Sudden Sky
is a sloppy serving of songs from a group of guys who gave up their crowns to instead masquerade as a bunch of court jesters. It's a damn shame too, because glory was calling their name five years ago. Perhaps they can turn the tide with future albums, but Sudden Sky
has left this listener heavily doubting the likelihood of that happening.