Friday, August 19, 2011

Varathron - Crowsreign (2004)

Crowsreign is considered a bit of an odd duck in the Varathron discography, but I can't agree that it's really all that strange or surprising. The Greeks had been building up to this immersion of atmosphere and modern, cleaner aesthetics, and thus decided to go all out and transform their sound into one more commonly associated with the melodic death metal genre than the rawer, Hellenic black glory of their earlier material. If you had access to their previous release, the 1999 EP The Lament of Gods, then you could see and hear this coming from a mile away, but despite its advanced level of polish, Crowsreign is simply not as charming or resonant as that, and certainly not in league with their first two full-length efforts.

Like their countrymen Rotting Christ and Necromantia, Varathron desired to reshape and redefine their presence in the underground, and so they diversified their sound. The album involves a lot more piano than past works, in addition to more acoustic elements. There are also a ton of these cleaner, schizoid sounding vocals that seem to serve as a strange narration through many of the songs. Sometimes, as in the into "Evil Gets an Upgrade", this feels as if it might make for compelling accompaniment to some fringe theater piece, but then, just as quickly, the band breaks into "There is No God", which transforms a typical melodic power metal guitar line into a storming, melodic black/death sequence and then continues to layer in the synthesizers as the vocals explode into an expansive, death metal growl. This is a pretty honest approximation of much of the content: passionate bursts of metal aggression alternated with tranquil segues, and then Gothy ligaments like the disturbing chant of "Darkness Falling" or the piano sweeping of "Emerging from the Immortals" and its dabs of synthesized choir.

There are several moments of swagger when the pagan, pompous riffing comes together to an appreciable climax in which you can tap your feet, bang your mug on the countertop or whatever the hell floats your fancy, but despite the sheer variation throughout the track list, there are painfully few points of note that you'll remember 15 minutes after the record ends. At 64 minutes, there is a substantial amount of fat to be trimmed, and much of this could be suctioned off from the 12+ minutes of "The King of Asine". I mean, it CAN'T be a good thing when a pure classical interlude like "Spirit of the Tomb" is superior to the rest of the content on the album, but to my regret, that is truly the case with this one. Crowsreign is an accumulation of ideas, reaching out for a broader audience, but finding none. Safe enough to turn away the long time listeners that were fond of the band's roots, but not catchy enough to expand the base either. Surely this isn't the worst deviation we've heard from a band, and in fact it's rather competently executed, but the band themselves even decided to turn this vessel back around half a decade later with Stygian Forces of Scorn (a considerably superior offering).

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
(a lake of fallen feelings)

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