Released: 2015, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
The return of Swedish melodic death metal vets The Crown has been anything but a smooth one. Following a six-year hiatus, they relaunched with 2010's Doomsday King, which featured Jonas Stålhammar on vocals after original frontman Johan Lindstrand, who'd left the band once before, chose not to come back for the “comeback.” A year later, however, Stålhammar was out and Lindstrand was behind the mic once again. In 2013, long-serving guitarist Marcus Sunesson left, and he was followed out the door last year by long-time drummer Janne Saarenpää.
So five years after their return, The Crown is a very different quintet for their new ninth album – the appropriately titled Death Is Not Dead - than they were for the “reunion” album. It's a pretty different sounding one, relatively speaking, as well. Where Doomsday foamed at the mouth with a sense of urgency that bordered on frantic, Death is more deliberate and measured and, dare I say, mature.
Though it boasts a muscular chug throughout, Death often seems like it's waiting to explode a la Doomsday, but gets held in check either by new drummer Henrik Axelsson's taut pacing, the hooky guitars of founder Marko Tervonen and new guy Robin Sörqvist or Lindstrand's burly, imposing growl. There are some noticeable exceptions, like the bracing “Ilbis Bane” powered by Axelsson's d-beat battery and the surging waves of “Speed Kills (Full Moon Ahead)” or “Herd of Swine,” but Death is nowhere near as breathless as Doomsday.
And that's really not such a bad thing. The tense riffs on the lead-off track “Headhunter,” a thundering cover of Paradise Lost's “Eternal” or “Horrid Ways” crunch like nobody's business – and “Horrid” concludes in a tangled flurry of dueling guitars that offers some real pizazz. “Godeater” closes the album on a particularly menacing note as the band slow the pace to a pummeling crawl, ratchet up the heaviness and Lindstrand snarls out his vocals by accentuating every syllable with sinister authority, echoing the blasphemous candor and sheer might of Behemoth. A truly mammoth song.
The beefy “Ride To Ruin,” however, runs of out gas after its guitar solo two minutes in and ends with several minutes of aimless riffing. And the instrumental “Meduseld” that leads into “Godeater” is kind of pointless as well, offering nothing special, especially with its squealing violin strains that sounds like nails across a chalkboard. No amount of youthful piss and vinegar would really help much here.
Still, Death Is Not Dead has the kind of punch and staying power that the more immediate Doomsday King lacked given its sheer ferocity. Despite all the changes since their reformation, The Crown really seem to have regained their footing with Death. Now it just remains to be seen if they can keep it together.