Right off the bat, Stygian Crown’s public relations information had me frothing at the mouth in anticipation. I hadn’t heard of them myself, but the band describe their own sound as “Candlethrower”; a melding of influences from Candlemass and Bolt Thrower. As two of my favourite bands of all time, I was really keen to hear just how Stygian Crown might try and live up to an almost impossible description…
Opener “The Hall of Two Truths” is a thirty second or so atmospheric intro, and it’s with “Devour the Dead” that we really get to experience what Stygian Crown have to offer. Formed by members of Gravehill and Morgion, the five-piece from Los Angeles have a secret weapon in their arsenal, and that’s the formidable vocals of classically trained Melissa Pinion. While the blurb makes claim that Stygian Crown owe a debt of gratitude to Candlemass, I might quibble a little and say that to my ears at least the closest doom comparison would be with the mighty Solitude Aeturnus. Melissa has a soaring yet deep clean vocal style that really isn’t a million miles away from classic Rob Lowe, and the slightly eastern sounding guitar melodies courtesy of Nelson Miranda and Andy Hicks bring to mind the mighty “Adagio” album.
For the most part, these are sprawling, epic doom anthems with just amazing vocals. The secret ingredient comes when the tracks apply a little more aggression; the guitar tone is an absolute spit for Bolt Thrower circa “…For Victory”, and when they turn up the mid-tempo chug, that downtuned buzzsaw artillery-shell thud really adds a whole other dimension. When “Up From The Depths” drops a cog and starts to lurch towards the finish line, the rhythm section of Jason Thomas (bass) and Rhett Davis (drums) really do smash it out of the park. Frankly, the middle and closing sections of this track are the closest thing you’re going to the war-obsessed Leamington Spa crew this sound of Memoriam. You may well be sat there reading this thinking, “how the hell does epic doom meld with Bolt Thrower?”. The answer is, “surprisingly well”.
There are some other influences scattered throughout the album though, as with the Dio-era Rainbow “Stargazer” bombast of “Flametongue”, an eight minute musical pilgrimage complete with amazing vocal range, sweeping keyboards and – two minutes in – an honest to God foot on the monitor Maiden-esque gallop. Things get a lot more disordered and chaotic with the angular time changes of “When Old Gods Die”, featuring tasty and memorable guitar soloing that weave pictures in the mind. The smash and grab palm muted smack of the axework in “Trampled into the Earth” combines with some true doom as featured on early Cathedral, while closer “Two Coins for the Ferryman” sounds like the B-side to a 7” released off the back of the “Nightfall” album.
Long story short kids, Stygian Crown are one of the best new bands I’ve heard in an absolute age, with some insanely talented musicians and a major new voice in metal in Melissa. This is an absolute corker.
(9/10 Chris Davison)