Considering the line-up involved, the deal through Century Media records, and the fact that by 1991, power and speed metal was only coming alive, not descending into a state of hibernation like its nearest neighbor thrash, it's very surprising that the German band Crows did not make a larger splash with their debut and sole album The Dying Race. With Leszek Szpigiel (Wolf Spider, Mekong Delta, Scanner) fronting the project, Frank Bankowski (Angel Dust) on bass, Bernd Kost and Bobby Schottkowski (both once of Sodom) involved, the talent was immense, and they coupled this with some fine songwriting that straddled the margin between progressive power/thrash and traditional German speed metal.
In addition, this was one of the better sounding records of 1991. Clearly much effort was put into the balance of instrumentation, the effective reach and range of the vocals, just the right reverb, tasteful solos and even a half-decent cover illustration. Crows had been formed a decade earlier, produced a number of demos through the 80s, and cycled through a number of other members (mostly Angel Dust alumni), but here they finally had pulled their act together and produced something enduring. With great sadness, like the proud native donned upon its face, The Dying Race never even took off. Perhaps too many people had their heads up their butts this year, listening to "Sad But True" or "Silent Lucidity" for the gazillionth time. Perhaps the band and label just failed to force it out far enough that the metal anglers could snap it out of the stream. Regardless, we historians of the obscure must honor its untimely passing by foisting it upon the unknowing, hoping the spark will finally catch the wire and explode.
No time is spent by Crows on grand introductions, instrumental tangents or nonsense. The band went in to record 8 of their best compositions, and the first to emerge from the studio womb is the excellence of "The Frantic Factor", a track which mixes the slight progressive touch of a Fates Warning or Mekong Delta with traditional riffing, lovely tapped leads and an urgent metal sadness diluted through at least six tasteful guitar constructions. The lyrics are quite simple, almost minimal, but effective, with a cryptic modesty that cultivates imagery appropriate to the leaden melodic bliss of the writing skills. "Too Proud to Fight" offers a more standard, fist pumping pace with a huge chorus, despite Lezsek's silken, thin tones, with a slightly aggressive tail to them that occasionally reminds me of Heretic and Metal Church's Mike Howe, albeit far more melodic. "We Are the Storm" is even more approachable than either of these, with superb spikes of melodic surging through the wonderful vocal hooks and raging rhythms, which were nearly complex for this genre.
The Crows will simply not let you go, as they bust out the roving of "Four", which I shit you not, seems like a delicious median between old Fates Warning, Omen and Iron Maiden. "East of Eden" is a more bombastic, urgent piece with driving, thrashed melodies ala Metallica glossed in cautionary melody, and "Change the Border" takes this even further with playful guitars over a rhythmic tech thrash verse reminiscent of Lezsek's other bands Wolf Spider or Mekong Delta. "Insanity Defense" uses further, slower movement and chugging/melody breaks to highlight the chorus, and though it's arguably the worst track on the album, it maintains the listener's interest with a bridge dowsed in synthesizer. The title track caps off the album with some excellent riffs and wild leads that mix the band's American prog-metal influences with some winded Euro thrash of taste, and you've just been successfully throttled for almost 37 minutes.
You didn't hear an album like The Dying Race every day in 1991, and today you simply don't hear anything at all that can so wonderfully mix an array of influences into a cohesive, fresh feel. Whether you appreciate any of the members' constituent acts, or simply a good hybrid of power, speed and progressive metal, there is something on offer for you. This record should be dredged up from its rueful slumber and thrust in the face of everyone who might appreciate it, because its really quite amazing, with a slight exemption in "Insanity Defense". If only we had been blessed with a follow-up, who knows just how fucking amazing it might have been. Whether your bag is Fates Warning, Queensryche, Omen and Lethal, or German melodic speed like Scanner, Rage and so forth, this is absolutely something you must hear.
Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (faint resignation)