Hailing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, epic doom metallers Northern Crown are about to release their third full-length album, entitled In A Pallid Shadow, on July 3rd, 2020. After forming in 2013 and releasing their debut EP In The Hands of The Betrayer a year later, the band has had a steady and high-quality output; consistent in tone, song-writing, and overall production.
The good news is, In A Pallid Shadow absolutely continues this streak of excellent releases. Northern Crown have taken everything they’ve done before and built upon it to create something fresh while using the Black Sabbath and Candlemass inspired foundation on which they began their career. The mammoth, planet-sized guitar riffs are all present and accounted for, and it’s easy to imagine Tony Iommi listening to this with a smile on his face. Thundering drums punctuate each track, and there are some beautiful quiet passages filled with strings, keyboards, and acoustic guitar parts. In A Pallid Shadow is a hugely dynamic album, and it flows from beginning to end flawlessly, capturing every mood and theme the band intended.
Opening track ‘Leprosarium’ hits you with its mid-tempo lumbering riff right out of the gate, and it’s not long before vocalist Frank Serafine’s distinct classic grit and dynamic theatrical delivery appears, telling the tale of an unnamed protagonist on a journey through the land of the lepers towards salvation, after being exiled. You may not catch the reference to John Coltrane’s jazz classic ‘Giant Steps’ buried deep within the track, but you will certainly feel the ten tons of metal slamming you in the face repeatedly. With explosive harmony lead work from Zach Randall and Evan Hensley that escalates during the second half of the song above the cavernous rhythm section, it leads towards its rather grandiose finale and in doing so, cements itself as one of the strongest doom metal tracks of the year.
‘The Last Snowfall’ follows in a similar vein to ‘Leprosarium,’ as Serafine laments “Ashes of the world around my feet, isolated, deranged, feeling weak… as a lonely soul falls upon me.” It’s another suitably epic track that shakes things up; introducing new riffs and ideas as the song progresses. There are about three of four different guitar parts in here that could make a worthy song on their own, but Northern Crown expertly weaves them all together to create something very special. The song itself takes you on a journey, and it uses all of its seven and a half minute runtime to do so. Nothing is spared, and not a second is wasted.
The Hammond organ is also used to great effect throughout the record, but it’s around the second track you notice the excellent production on In A Pallid Shadow. The final mastering of the album was handled by the notorious and balanced hands of Dan Swanö (Unisound Studio/SE,) who has meticulously crafted an exquisite doom metal album, with more than a few elements of prog rock, such as touches of Deep Purple and Yes. Every instrument is crystal clear and packs an almighty punch when necessary. The evocative cover art from Travis Smith, who had also worked with the band on their previous self-titled album, is haunting, ambiguous and beautiful as it sucks you into the music on In A Pallid Shadow and prepares you for a descent into one of the best doom metal albums of the year.
The band’s previous album, Northern Crown, was a myriad of differing lyrical subjects and In A Pallid Shadow is no different – strength in opposition, exploited vulnerability, and fictional storytelling – all not uncommon in the doom metal genre, unified as one under the flag of doom n’ roll with extra dirty rock organ to boot. Loneliness, grief, despair, hopelessness… It’s all here, especially on the ten-minute album closer ‘Observing,’ as the “Earth trembles, realities unravelling” while the universe burns. Nihilism is a particularly common theme of doom metal, as it’s a perfect fit for the slow, rumbling riffs and dark lyrics, but it’s extremely good here. What better way to end a doom album than with the entire universe falling apart?
In A Pallid Shadow is one of the finest doom metal albums I’ve heard so far in 2020, and it’ll be on heavy rotation once it’s officially released. If you have even a passing interest in bands such as Black Sabbath, Candlemass, and My Dying Bride, or just the genre as a whole, you’ll find something here to love. There’s plenty here to uncover, and it’s an album that warrants repeated listening. My only wish is that the album was longer, but really I’m nitpicking, as what is here is sublime.
2. The Last Snowfall
3. A Vivid Monochrome
4. 8 Hours
Zach Randall – Guitars
Leona Hayward – Bass
Frank Serafine – Vocals
Album Session Players:
Dan Konopka – Drums
Evan Hensley – Guitar solos
In A Pallid Shadow will be released on July 3rd, 2020 via all digital streaming services.