Northern Crown have returned with not only a self-titled record (which I always considered to be a signature album from a band, especially at a further point in their career) but what I’d consider to be one of the best damn doom records I’ve heard all year. But what makes Northern Crown’s self-titled disc so great? The mere fact that this time around, these gentlemen decided to meld 60’s prog keyboard theatrics in with what was already an impressive performance.
“I Am Your Slave” rolls in as a terrific opener with its early induction of those very same proggy keyboards that I mentioned earlier, yet it also has a decidedly Candlemass feel that I think might even have the ability to overthrow Candlemass in its incredible instrumentation. The solos here are incredible, combined with such a well-understood and passionate performance. I can understand the song on both a lyrical and musical level as the right amount of clarity is readily apparent, despite the fact that the band committed a bit of a sin in cutting the song off at the solo. That means you have to go see them live to hear the whole solo section there.
Moving on from nitpicks, we have the Blue Oyster Cult meets Manilla Road nature of “Merciless, They Let You Suffer.” Just the way that this song starts up is monolithic. As the verse and choruses come in, I am definitely carried along with it, but then the real crux of the message comes in as an incredible amount of fierce instrumentation throws the structure off slightly for some rather unexpected punches.
“Forged From Nothing” brings on the doom in earnest, as dreadful hums emerge from the guitar amps, soon to be backed with proggy keyboards and a thick torrent of astral winds. My God, folks. This album is so perfectly comprised that you don’t even need the vocals to enjoy it. I’m blown away at such a musical level that it’s unreal. Satan may have been involved with this one, I haven’t heard doom this great in years. Ages, even.
“Chasing The Sun” becomes incredibly trippy, soon rolling into yet more great guitar playing, from a band that just wants to jam out and let you know that rock isn’t dead. Maybe the teenage rockers are sporting Twenty One Pilots T-Shirts, but it doesn’t mean that the guitar has been buried in a sea of hip hop masquerading as rock music. As Northern Crown prove, the ancient sounds of guitars, drums and keyboards are still very much alive and well.
“The Desert and The Wind” is even more proof of that, which is a tour-de-force that I feel should have been placed at the very end of the album. Why? Because this is a monster, an absolute monolith, a gigantic, colossal force of nature that should be the very end node for the release as a whole. After this song completes, you feel like the disc should have ended. You feel like the band said all that they needed to say, and it becomes even puzzling to the fact that there are other tracks on the disc. As for the song, it begins rather calmly albeit with the unexpected addition of harsh vocals. (Yes, there’s harsh vocals on this doom album) After this, a mesmerizing solo bellows forth as our lizard friend continues his harsh vocal assault and the entire tempo the song changes. We’re now listening to thrash ladies and gentlemen. My God, we’re now listening to thrash. Not just thrash though, as some airy atmospheres still manage to take place within the increased tempo. After the dust settles, you feel like you’ve heard the end of the album. Usually, discs end at this point. I’d be upset if there was so much as a cover track after this one, but the fact remains that there are three cuts after it and that there’s around thirty minutes of music to follow.
That being said, “Righteous & Pure” takes up a different kind of feeling and makes me think of Bloody Hammers a bit more than the classic doom influences that they’ve been showcasing previously. Maybe I’m even getting a tad bit of Type O Negative. Unfortunately, that changes a bit and moves closer to traditional doom, though I will add that the keyboards certainly keep up a gothic influence and that keeps my interest. Moving on slightly from 60’s prog to a sound that Dracula would welcome as he sipped a glass of wine is definitely enough for me to slightly absolve my previous rant regarding “The Desert and The Wind.”
Next we have, “By Demons Bidden” which strangely reminds me of “Moonlight Sonata.” I keep thinking on the classic Beethoven piece, one of my personal favorites for a variety of reasons. It sticks heavily to doom after that, but delivers in the same way as would any modern Candlemass performance.
A cover node of My Dying Bride‘s “Your River” ends the album, complete with the harsh vocal sensibilities that would have been featured in the original. I feel that it is a very strong cover and am also glad that it isn’t some crazy bonus B-Side that people have to pay extra money for. Stop doing that. Stop putting extra tracks on World and Japanese editions of albums, labels. You’re only encouraging people to listen to these tracks through YouTube. They’re not going to pay extra money to import an album just for two extra tracks. People aren’t all made of money and those that are, choose to save it up so that they still have it.
Despite my “slight” nitpicks, I feel that Northern Crown’s self-titled album may hands down be the best that I’ve ever heard from them. I honestly don’t know how they’re going to top it, but I definitely see some ways that they may progress in the future. Without a doubt, Northern Crown’s self-titled is more than likely going to be my personal favorite doom release of the year and I simply have to state that The Grim Tower Highly Recommends Northern Crown’s Self-titled album. Experience this masterwork of American doom and 60’s prog at the link below.
(8 Tracks, 58:00)
Purchase HERE (Bandcamp)