REVIEW: SVART CROWN – “Wolves Among The Ashes”
While Behemoth, Vader, and Belphegor have a stranglehold on blackened death metal, Behemoth has been moving further away from the trappings of death metal and leaning heavily into imagery and theater. Vader, Belphegor, and other bands in the same pool have a devoted following yet cannot seem to break into the mainstream populace as convincingly as Behemoth has. France has its own blackened hat to throw in the ring with Svart Crown and their newest release Wolves Among The Ashes.
Svart Crown aren’t wet behind the ears when it comes to experimentation and making music that pushes at genre boundaries constantly. Profane was an onslaught of teeth-bared vehemence and garnered fans from both raw black metal and polished death metal fans, appealing to both audiences in equal measure. Their follow up in Abreaction was more measured in its delivery and tone, moving towards more progressive arrangements and trading inaccessibility for a more streamlined approach to an already abrasive trope. Wolves Among The Ashes follows the path of channeling unbridled chaos into something more cohesive.
Album opener They Will Not Take Our Death In Vain is a cross between a sampled album-intro and an actual song, and muddles between the two, before dropkicking us all with the first single and album highlight Thermageddon. Wolves showcase Profane-era ferocity far too rarely, and the intro riff to Thermageddon is one such pleasurable occurrence. This is what I associate with Svart Crown, blast-beat laden riffs at a feverish pace. However, Thermageddon slows itself down into a slow-to-mid paced stomp relying on groove and menace, before picking back up as best as it can, yet not reaching the fervor of its first arrangement.
The tracks that follow are chock-full of punchy chords with the trademark minor chords riding along with a stable double bass, moving away from chaos into reined in evil as seen on Act of Obedience. It is clear that on Wolves, Svart Crown do not want to be pigeonholed into just another all-rage-no-heart extreme metal act, and in an effort to convince us of deeper meaning, compromises on many of the tropes that put them on the map in the first place. Continuing on, Blessed Be The Fools is best described as the Behemoth-Gojira crossover we never asked for, but received anyway. A running issue encountered on nearly every track on Wolves is how frontloaded they are, starting out with immensely rewarding arrangements only to falter near the halfway point and devolve into middling sections with no build up and little to no payout. The descending dissonant riff overlayed on Act of Obedience is notably surprising but is an exception rather than the rule.
My favorite track off Wolves, unsurprisingly, was At The Altar of Beauty which again kicks us back into black metal reminding listeners of an older Svart Crown, with a good measure of genre upstarts Mgla and Uada thrown in for good measure. Given an entire record of tracks like Altar and we would have had a smash hit with Wolves, having such a masterful balance of blackened anger, memorable chugs, and enough ambience to tie it all together. Unfortunately, the crash after Altar into Down to Nowhere was the lowest point on the entire record. The two-noted faux-doom track was a trudge all the way down, lathered with all the doom trappings of breathy cleans, and slow-moving string arrangements, which ultimately have a lackluster conclusion. A tragic misstep.
The influence of Gojira’s groove and vocal stylings are all over Wolves and are pronounced on every facet of the other album single, Exoria. Clean vocals make its way onto Wolves Among The Ashes for the first time with such a high prevalence, and its reception will leave many divided. Album closer Living With The Enemy is yet another slower-paced blackened doom track, albeit far less monotonous than Down to Nowhere.
This is the first record after the departure of longtime drummer Kevin Paradis and first record with new drummer Nicolas Muller, who pulls his weight adequately if not impressively, providing enough blast and double bass for the guitars to work their magic. Svart Crown’s auteur JB Le Bail continues to be a master of the riffs and chord work, this time adding new layers to his vocals (again drawing parallels to Gojira and Behemoth). The guitar work and solo on Thermageddon provided by Clement Flandrois is astounding, and it is a pity that we didn’t get more blistering solos on the rest of Wolves. With vocals coming from Le Bail, Flandrois, and bassist Julien Negro it is hard to discern who pushed the clean vocals through on this record. It will be interesting to see how they continue to refine this new element on future records, if at all.
Wolves Among The Ashesis a mixed bag of tone, message, and influences. A record of high highs and low lows which will leave fans of the band and the genre wondering where Svart Crown will go next.