Record label: Independent
Release date: December, 2020
Album length: 11:00
Genre: Blackened Death Metal
- Wake Up Sleeper
I have to be honest; I know almost nothing about Crown of Thorns who I mistook for Crowned in Sorrow (opens new window) and whose name always makes me think of Crimson Thorn. So at the very least, their name places them in good company for the extreme side of Christian metal. What I do know is that Crown of Thorns dropped a three-song ep (perhaps demo?) in 2020 that lands firmly in the land of Death metal. Though, as you will read, they add a little something to help them stand out. I am not a connoisseur of the more extreme genres of metal. I like a few bands and am always open to hearing new stuff, but it is not my usual go-to. So with that being said, I will start by addressing the elephant in the room. The production on this is bad. Sorry for not sugar-coating that, but there you have it. I bring that this is not my usual go-to because I’ve heard that some bands purposely choose to embrace the bad production sound, early black metal bands for example. If that is the case for Crown of Thorns, I am going to be blunt and say it was a bad choice. There is a lot of great stuff going on here that could use a bit of polish. I'm going with the belief that they did the best they could with a small (perhaps no) budget.
Luxuria kicks things off and we immediately get to hear how they’ve set themselves apart from the general Death metal sound. They bring the atmosphere! At times it sounds like they are mixing in a doom metal influence and other spots. It brings a Goth comparison to mind. After the short intro, they drop right into the song and the mix of death and black vocals (I am assuming dual vocalists here) pretty much punch you in the face. The drums are pounding; the bass is rumbling, but they incorporate the doomy atmospheric intro sound throughout, and you could easily convince me there is an almost operatic choral group brought in to spice things up. They mix things up by slowing down for a section then building back up to the faster heavier sound again before fading out. Desperations begins similarly with the slower intro into a heavy drop, but this time they go with a creepy sounding strummed guitar, which they again allow to permeate the background. There is a subtle hint of the classic death guitar sound that peeks out here and there. Then soundly everything stops and we get a return of the creepy strumming. This leads into a guitar solo into yet another heavy vocal drop. As the song draws to a close, we get a breakdown and once again a return to the creepy strumming.
I’m going to pause here for a second and give an overall opinion on the two songs before we move on to the third and final song. Crown of Thorns bring the heavy and add some cool extras with the atmospheric touches. There are two major problems, though. First, the guitar is barely there. When it appears it is great, there is clearly a skilled player here, but it gets lost behind/under everything else that’s going on. Secondly, the band has trouble transitioning from part to part. It, unfortunately, feels like there are a bunch of disparate parts being added together. Breakdowns appear with little setup, slower parts come with a jarring stop to the driving portions. To be clear, each part is played well, we just need to have a more cohesive flow.
Wake Up Sleeper begins with a spoken word intro and then brings an instrumental song. So I choose to address my issues with the previous songs before continuing because they do everything right here. I’m not sure if the lack of vocals allowed them the freedom to explore the music more, but the guitars are front and center, working in synch with the drums to set the tone. The drums themselves are more varied here; they still have the blast from before but with some well-thought-out fills. Oh and the transitions, yes there is a flow. They set up each change in tempo and tone.
Vocally there are some really strong moments. We get deep gutturals. At times they come through clearly, I mean you’re probably still going to need the lyric sheet to follow like any good death metal. However, this is one area that the production becomes a bit problematic, as the vocals can get muddied and harder to decipher. The occasional addition of the higher pitch-black vocals is a welcome counterpoint. They mix well with the gutturals and serve to highlight the more aggressive portions of the songs.
Lyrically Crown of Thorns goes for a darker struggle-filled theme. Luxuria is about our struggles with our sinful nature (the flesh). For some reason, this song got an explicit label from Spotify. I’m not sure exactly why as I’ve come across worse without the tag. While there is no cursing, they do liberally use the word lust. Interestingly they kind of mix their metaphors, at times the lust seems to refer to sexual sin but more prevalent is its use in our desire to be violent. The later part of the song is more clear on its look at our struggle while mixing in a mention of God’s wrath as a consequence of not having faith and seeking his help to overcome the struggle. I don’t always like hearing about God’s wrath, but we need to be reminded that while God is loving, he is also a judging God and that is rarely fun to think about. Desperations similarly deals with the struggle with sin, except this time they make it more personal. It’s about the feeling and acknowledgment that on our own we are not able to overcome. They delve into the sense of desperation this causes. We tie the whole thing up with the spoken word intro to Wake Up Sleeper. They remind us of God’s saving grace and point out that no matter how far we are or how grievous our sins are, God still wants us to come to him. I would like to have seen this played out over a couple more songs. There is a bleakness and desperation to the first two songs that I’m uncertain the short-spoken word wrap-up can really address. They do such a good job setting the tone that it seems a disservice to not delve a little deeper into the hope of Christ.
All in all, this review may have come across as particularly negative, but I do recommend going and giving this a try. We have a new band experimenting and largely succeeding at carving out a place for themselves. They are good musicians with a clear passion to preach Jesus’ good news. A little of a budget and a bit of work on their song structures, and we have a new addition to the pantheon of Christian Death metal.
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