Reviewed: December 2020
Released: 2020, High Roller Records
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
According to their bio, Finland’s Chalice have spent the last 5 years composing the songs present on Trembling Crown, their debut full-length. This only makes it all the more a shame, then, that the album is so blighted by poor production and sound quality.
Props where due, Chalice have some solid aspirations here. Trembling Crown is, at least in intent, an epic album of classic heavy metal, and has some decent variety to it. “Hunger of the Depth” is full of grandiose sentiment, big and bold and brimming with doom; when the dirge-like melodies hit mid way through it even takes on something of a My Dying Bride vibe. Tracks like “Stars” take us on their travels, while “Karkanxholl” aims for a vintage Iron Maiden-inspired lead-driven march.
I can’t fault the album for ambition, and it does attempt to keep the songs decently varied rather than repeating the same thing over and over. But what is a consistent factor is the poor quality of the production. Far too often the playing sounds far sloppier than I suspect it really is, and the vocals, while lively, regularly sound separated from the instrumentation. This is particularly noticeable when the instruments get scaled back and make room, the space between these two aspects highlighted, as in parts of the title track when the instruments sound far off and distant while the vocals are uncomfortably close in your ear. Elsewhere, the vocal delivery can just feel out of place, as in “The Key”, which has a good melody to it, but then the vocals stumble in like a drunk intruding on a refined opera.
The drums suffer particularly badly under this, consistently just clicking and tapping weakly when they should be crashing and pounding like storms. And at other times, the way the music is mixed makes it sound muddy and bland (similar to the album cover actually, where the dull shades of brown with the barely-visible band logo just make it look like an unpleasant mess to the eye), like everything isn’t quite synching up as it should, or as if certain notes are misplaced. “Wings I’ve Known” is one of the prime offenders in this regard: it feels like there’s a good song in here, but the melodies just don’t quite line up as they should, and the drumming sounds all over the place.
There’s good intent here, and some nice ideas, but it’s all held back by a muddy, weak production job that sadly leaves the album as a whole struggling to stand out.