Not too long ago I purchased a CD from a well regarded and signed doom band who shall remain nameless, and when it arrived care of a major online retailer, I honestly thought that I’d been sent some kind of demo by mistake, such was the poor artwork and packaging. Whilst in these days of downloads and online copying, it is still nice to get physical media in a well presented package. Even before I opened the foil, Northern Crown scored points with their debut EP ‘In The Hands Of The Betrayer’, a finely crafted piece of Gothic doom art adorning the digipack front and back, continuing within the covers and extending to the CD itself. This same devotion to detail, unlike so many other acts that are all image, extends to the music.
Opening title track ‘In The Hands Of The Betrayer’ comes in with a strong chugging riff with a dark operatic sweep like Sisters of Mercy, the guitar work being at the faster end of the Doom Metal spectrum and layered with swirling keyboards. A slower funereal pace opens follow up ‘A Perfectly Realised Torment’ before guitars hammer in with a slice of pure Candlemass, a style that supports the strong sustained vocals of Frank Serafine, the lyrics of magic and myth sounding like a summoning of servants from the netherworld. That Sweden’s biggest exporters of Doom are a huge influence on the band is even more apparent in Northern Crown’s choice to add a cover to their EP in the form of ‘Crystal Ball’ from the seminal ‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’, a clearly respectful tribute that even runs to the exact same 5 minutes 21 seconds as the album original; clearly there was no need to mess with the original.
To close this first offering, the band present ‘To Thee I Give an Orchid’, a near 11 minute master class in the art of Gothic Doom, the lyrics of unrequited Byronic love interweaving a wall of church style organ blasts and guitar power chords that fade down into a mournful instrumental break before again vocals soar into the fray. The track, which would once have rightfully earned its own 12” EP vinyl release, and who knows may yet do so, then gently closes out with pianos and keyboards played like string quartet.
Northern Crown are a band that are not ashamed to show many classic influences, and in a self released CD have shown a level of production that would have once been only possible with the most expensive of studios and a stack of label support. That the band have made this all themselves, including writing, producing, mastering and mixing duties split between assorted studios is a feat worthy of admiration.