REVIEWED: CROWN - 'The End Of All Things'
Sometimes, underground music, for all its rejection of the mainstream and outcast mojo, can be quite conservative. We might sneer at the identikit autotune monotony of chart music, but tradition is a crucial part of our DNA. Black Sabbath still continue to be treasured in doom metal and anyone else who pledge their allegiance to slow fuzzy tones. Loud were the howls of derision when Slayer got swept up in the moment and tried their hand at groove metal during the nu-metal era. Even right up to the modern day, po-faced black metallers are prime meme material; if we had a penny for every press release that promises a return to no-frills brutality, they’d be enough to pay for the reforestation of the entirety of mainland Europe. This being music though, we hail those bands who stick to their guns, and do what they do best - Motörhead, Cannibal Corpse, Paradise Lost (who had their own wobble with ‘One Second’ and the deviation into goth rock rather than the solemn funeral doom they were known for and subsequently returned to).
But also, it’s all the more crucial we have bands like CROWN, who seemingly challenge themselves as much as they’re challenging us. Not that they didn’t before: their first two albums ‘Psychurgy’ and ‘Natron’ combined industrial and post-metal in a way that could demolish tower blocks, fully embracing the possibilities of industrial-grade heavy guitar and raw-throated vocals and remorseless programmed drumbeats. So anticipation for ‘The End Of All Things’ was high, to say the least, as the COVID crisis forced delays. But scarcely nothing could prepare us for what happens when, full of anticipation and preconceived ideas, we hit play, and ‘Violence’ uncoils itself from the speakers. Nothing could prepare you for this. All notions of what CROWN should be or what we should expect have been turned on its head. And it’s thrilling.
Flowing into successor track ‘Neverland’, the melodic and the melancholic have been artfully combined. CROWN’s propensity for the dreamlike aesthetic of Joy Division and Depeche Mode have always been foreshadowed in their previous records, but this is the first time it has come to the fore. Guitars, beats, vocals, synths and live drums are all impeccably layered, the meticulous skill of the arrangements fascinate on every listen. The track flow is impeccable - ‘Shades’ has a sheet metal tone to the guitar that songs like Satan’s dentist drill that's all the more jarring compared to the restrained grief that precedes it. Needless to say, the songcraft is as majestic as the rest of the album. And yet nothing is quite as it appears: ‘Illumination’ shows reverence to gothic metal without falling into a thicket of clichés, while ‘Nails’ comes on like a Neurosis slow-burn build, and then building on the spine of a fuzzy, bass segmented sifting bass riff with Eastern strings. Every track sweeps you along, like the eddies of a deep dark river; the aptly named ‘Fleuve’ is a more conventional acoustic ballad, not quite a dreamlike atmosphere, but the sleeplessness of old sins and persistent regrets that coil around like smoke of endless cigarettes smoked in solitude.
With all the music available to us, it’s easy to forget that sometimes, music is just as much about self-expression for the artist as it is for enjoyment of the listener. As the final tracks of ‘The End Of All Things’ play out, and the skull-scraping roars that texture ‘Firebearer’ and the guest vocals of Karin Park on ‘Utopia’ mingle with the dark gothic stylings, it’s difficult as a listener to contextualise what this means. They could have just written another record of intense screams and snarling, downtuned six-string ferocity, but instead they sought something else, and in the process CROWN have exceeded all expectations by pushing aside preconceptions.
‘The End Of All Things’ is out now on Pelagic Records