Review Summary: Crown the Ghostwriter
It's hard to talk about this album, or band for that matter, without first addressing their biggest controversy.
When Dave Escamilla “left” the band in 2017, three stories regarding his departure arose. The bands story, Dave's story, and somewhere in between, there is the truth. Dave of course ousted the band for using a ghostwriter, claiming the band weren't even allowed into the studio some days during the process of creating their last LP Retrograde, whilst the band claimed their ghostwriter was merely a “friend of the band” who just didn't perform with them. Now of course, no one but the band, Dave, and their label (presumably) truly know how the band operates, but after doing some digging, it did appear that both Dave and the band had exaggerated parts of their stories. The band do in fact have a team who help them write their music, but the band themselves are very much involved in the creation of their material. Andy Leo does in fact write his own lyrics, and Brandon Hoover does in fact write their guitar parts, but when it comes to putting the final product together, the band need some help. Brendan Barone is their “ghostwriter”. He is very much a “brother of the band”, in that he has been helping them make their music since the beginning, but never wished to take part in the touring lifestyle. He was not hired by the band, nor by their label, but he does have a large hand in bringing their songs and albums together. Think of him like Gordon Ramsay, shouting at somewhat incompetent chefs.
In Dave's account, he claimed the band weren't allowed into the studio during the creative process of their last album, and unfortunately there is no proof either way of this, but there would appear to be some truth to it, as Andy Leo mentioned in an interview with Alternative Press that the band only put out their metalcore albums because at the time, it was a profitable genre. How does this back up Dave's story? If the label saw the bands music would not sell well in the current climate, it would make sense that they would try to stop them from creating anything like it again. Ergo, not allowed in the studio. But that is of course, just a theory. Dave was kicked out of the band for a multitude of reasons, one being an incident in Japan that nowhere appears to have disclosed, but mainly because he didn't feel right with them having outside help. This would have caused ripples in the water, and thus, the band decided the only way to calm the pond was to shoot the rampant duck.
This brings us to their latest album, Sudden Sky.
This album had the least amount of outside help. In fact, aside from Brendan Barone, this album was written and put together entirely by Andy, Brandon, Brent and Hayden, right down to the album artwork. So, therefore, this is technically the first TRUE Crown the Empire album. And it's great.
The album begins with an atmospheric, but admittedly pretentious, intro track, electronic buzzing and whirring with Andy talking about his fears and how life is very temporary, and a very bizarre line about refreshing a web-page (?). The song has a very pre-Netflix Black Mirror vibe, which sets the tone of the album perfectly, with much of the following material being about living in a tech-dominated world. The following song, “20/20”, is one of the biggest highlights of the album. The thick and fuzzy bass line, the heavy guitars, pummelling drums and one of Andy's greatest vocal performances really make this one of their best tracks. Lyrically touching on the effects of having your life open for all to see on social media, it's themes are nothing new, but regardless it is an effective lead single. “SEQU3NCE”, “Red Pills” and the title track are the three standout songs, with some of the best instrumentals the band have ever put out, the latter of which containing some excellent synth lines, creating a much more textured landscape of sounds. “Red Pills” has some of the more lacklustre lyrics of the album, but certainly makes up for it with it's catchy hook, which sounds like something out of a Breaking Benjamin album. “SEQU3NCE” comes off like an Ill Nino song, and is easily the heaviest track on the album, hearkening back to their older metalcore sound.
The worst track on this album, is “March of the Ignorant”. The song contains a synth trumpet (or at least that's what this reviewer thinks it might be) which is so out of place on this album, it really throws the albums flow off, with every song so far having a distinct electronicore style, and “March of the Ignorant” (allow me to make you wince) feeling like a modern Fall Out Boy
track in the middle of a Deftones
album. The song not only falls flat in that sense, but it is generally just, a 3 minute and 20 second piece of absolutely nothing at all. It's almost as if they wanted it as a segway track, but at the last minute realised they hadn't hit their minimum album length, and padded it out. Another complaint about Sudden Sky is it's length. Barely hitting the 30 minute mark, it doesn't quite feel satisfying enough. Just as you get invested, it's over. It doesn't help that 4 of the albums 10 tracks (or 9 if you don't count (x)) were released before the album as a whole.
To bring us back to the start of this review, the track “what I am” is an interesting one. The songs lyrics, in case you couldn't tell, are written in direct response to Dave Escamillas firing from the band. The track was released as the second single, about 1 year after his departure, and is the CTE equivalent of a diss track. The song is catchy, with some of the most audible bass you will ever hear from this band, and a very earwormy chorus, but it comes across, much like the bands initial statement, as very douchey. The song is good, but where it comes from and what it says is not good, especially after the band claimed Dave put no creativity into the bands previous albums, when we know full well the rest of them also didn't exactly do it without training wheels. The line “I won't burn myself out/Just to keep you warm” is a prime example of the bands ego, rubbing more salt into the already brine-filled sores that the controversy left.
Sudden Sky is an excellent album. It has flaws, it has a few miss-steps, but the great parts do override much of the worst parts. As for the controversy, this album was made with no outside help, bar Brendan Barone, who is basically a member of the band, that doesn't get up on stage. The ghostwriter crisis will no doubt tarnish the bands reputation forever, with even hardcore fans still calling them out on their almost cruel statement about Dave, but it looks as though they have somewhat learned their lesson.