Review Summary: Svart Crown return and explore some new musical paths, giving out result which is solid on the one hand, but at the same time, not completely void of turbulence.
The recent years have been fruitful for Svart Crown, who have been releasing banger after banger the previous decade and have already marked the scene with their own personal sound, which draws influences from both black and death metal, yet it would be very hard to confuse them with any other band around once you listen to some of their material. In the case of their fifth full length album, Wolves Among the Ashes, it is important to be familiar with the steps they have been taking to reach this stage, specifically their previous two records, 2013's Profane and 2017's Abreaction.
Once we are on the same page regarding that, it’s hard to miss the incredible dominance Svart Crown exert with their music, a characteristic and well rounded dose of frantic riffs and thunderous drums, as well as painful, soaring vocals that maintain a hold on the listener, which is really hard to break. They are very capable of injecting their own grooves in the tracks, without getting too far with it, while the lyrics have a devastating story of their own to tell, making this band an authentic gem that surely stands out in terms of quality of content. All of this intensity is what I am always seeking from their records, and in my opinion it’s not only what they do best, but it also has a uniqueness that can’t go unappreciated. By keeping this in mind, Wolves Among the Ashes finds the band slightly trying to experiment with a few other musical elements, without -and thank the heavens for that- abandoning their former self.
The record opens with an introduction that reminds a bit of “In Utero: A Place of Hatred and Threat” off Profane, having a noisy narrating voice sample a la Full of Hell before giving way to the first track, and one of the highlights, “Thermageddon”. The fast paced tempos and furious guitar work should put a smile on the face of the listener, which might fade out a bit when some clean vocals will be introduced during the chorus of the song, that vaguely bring Death Angel’s The Art of Dying in mind. At this point, I did start fearing that Svart Crown, a powerful death metal band of the recent years, might have tried from the forbidden seed and will take the fall for the sake of modernity. Things do not go off hand that much while listening to Wolves Among the Ashes, which has several memorable moments that are worth listening, however the new paths Svart Crown attempt to explore are not well implemented into their base music.
While Abreaction had an unbelievable structure that made it run like a single, long and wonderful track, it’s hard not to take Wolves Among the Ashes piece by piece exactly because, in my opinion, it lacks this coherence. Some tracks are remarkable while others are barely average, parts of some tracks will impress even old listeners, and at the same time, other parts of tracks will have the same listeners wonder what the hell happened, which makes this album a roller coaster, and not in the good way. I will become more specific by mentioning the example of “At the Altar of Beauty”, a potent track with immense power that features the perfect blend of middle paced grooves and fast paced aggressiveness, not to mention the nicely placed clean guitar parts. Listen to the closure of this track and tell me you don’t feel the punch in the gut, exactly where the grim beauty of Svart Crown themselves shines through.
And after this is done, the worst tune of the album, that left big question marks in my head, comes in. The band chooses to create a clean guitar ballad type of a song, as if they have transformed into a standard nu-metal band with “Down to Nowhere” which tries to create an atmosphere by whispering to the microphone instead of singing. The lyrics turn cheesy as well, and I will come forward to say that this mellow side of Svart Crown does not fit them at all, the tracks feels out of place and all the momentum has by now, gone to waste. “Exoria” (the Greek word for exile) has similar modern metal parts but not completely, and Svart Crown slowly recover from the shock and offer a decent final track “Living with the Enemy” which concludes Wolves Among the Ashes.
The same turmoil exists in the middle of the album as well, where “Art of Obedience” is a collage of these two new faces of the band, and “Blessed Be the Fools” (can’t help but think of Blessed Are the Sick here, no relevance whatsoever, other than the title) is based on a single guitar riff, which is at least legit but has some mechanical sounds that I wasn’t expecting to hear. Damn, the at the end of that track I thought I would be transferred to an Author and Punisher album all of a sudden. While these different parts might work well on their own, the overall mixture is what is aching. The main issue with Wolves Among the Ashes is not Svart Crown’s will to change their sound a bit, but the fact that they haven’t managed to adjust the new elements properly yet. It is unfair to be too harsh with the record, which, other than “Down to Nowhere”, doesn’t have any other extremely weak moment, yet I think as a whole the record certainly is inferior to their back catalog.
I had a hard time deciding what to rate this, but after some thought I don’t think Wolves Among the Ashes is an average release. Its flaws took me by surprise, but still the spirit of the band is here and many times during the album the result was very pleasing and lived up to my expectations. If Svart Crown manage to balance their new musical approach in a future release, as I’m fine with the turn they took, they could reach stellar heights again. Until then, Wolves Among the Ashes could possibly need more time than usual to sink in.