Here’s a few statistics for you. During their 30 plus year history, the longest serving, in one go at least, vocalist for Candlemass has been Mats Leven, serving from 2012-2018 on numerous tours and festival slots However, that same period has seen very little new music coming out from that camp, only releasing two EP’s. He has now been replaced by a returning Johan Langquist, with the band apparently rehearsing predominantly classic material for forthcoming shows. Well, you may rightly ask, “what has that got to do with the new eponymous Northern Crown album?” As much as an old git like me would love to catch live songs that formed part of the musical landscape of my youth sung by the original vocalist, I also like to hear new material, and until the aforementioned Swedes step into the recording studio, their reign is being challenged, and challenged strongly, by new and hungry acts, and at the forefront of the charge is Northern Crown.
‘I Am Your Slave’ throws down the gauntlet at the feet of the old guard, starting in with a massively epic sound that is simultaneously classic in style and cutting edge in energy. Every element the fan of epic Doom could want is present in spades: riffs are slow and crushing; solos precise; keyboards swirl through the midst of every riff, and vocals are strong and clear, paying a homage to the days of classic rock rather than the dirty depressive growls of some more modern iterations of metal. In contrast to the seven minutes plus of the opener, follow up ‘Merciless, They Let You Suffer’ sprints past at an almost indecently short four minutes, the greater dominance of the keyboards and faster pace making it seem that multi-instrumentalist Zachary Randall has been entered by the spirit of Jon Lord reaching from beyond the veil to propagate his musical legacy. Indeed, I can only imagine that between ‘Northern Crown’ and their first album rather than listening exclusively to the likes of Pentagram and Saint Vitus the band have been steeping themselves in the classic seventies rock of the likes of Rainbow; hell, ‘Forged From Nothing’ with the opening combination of a screaming Hammond organ and pounding drums even nods in the direction of the pomp and grandeur of ELP at their most Progtastic before those instruments are joined by a foot stomping guitar riff.
A journey into the musical epic reaches a zenith in ‘The Desert and the Wind’ the sort of massive ten minute plus number that is every bit as much classic Queensrÿche as it is Black Sabbath in the way it reveals a story telling narrative rather than pounding out verse-chorus-verse. The album proper finishes with an equally epic original number, ‘By Demons Driven’, a darkly gothic tinge being added to the mix with the almost discordant opening two minutes, keyboards keening in an otherworldly lament to the slow drag of the rhythm section and starkly plucked chords of the guitar before pained lyrics of darkness and despair ring forth. The band then ends on their remarkably faithful recreation of the My Dying Bride classic ‘Your River’, a track that whilst very well executed seems to my ears to be somewhat out of place; the other seven tracks on ‘Northern Crown’ show the band are not only skilfully proficient musicians, but more than capable of writing their own material, making the album closer sound like something of an add on, more of a track to be played as a respectful live encore, or a bonus on a special edition, but hey, that’s just my thoughts.
Northern Crown, as well as evolving their line up, have evolved their sound on this second album, and that they’ve done it all in a DIY fashion is something that can only garner admiration and respect. With such a progression in ability and confidence in a couple of short years by this act, amongst others in the Doom scene, once again, I must warn titans of the form such as Candlemass that now is not the time to rest on your laurels or else you are in danger of becoming a jukebox band churning out old tracks on stage, rather than being genuinely creative.