Although it has a pleasing style that succeeds at imbuing a post-rock sentiment in the meandering doom, and it most certainly has its glory moments, Crown Fire isn't particularly compelling in its entirety. Is it the lack of a singer? I'm tempted to say that one would help add some purpose, but they certainly can manage without one. Opening number "Surface Fire" does fine without a mouth, relying on some evocative guitar work to add emotion and keep the song from growing stale. However, the next song, "Cruciform Empennage," dashes that to pieces after an interesting, slightly Oriental intro, whereupon it plunges headfirst into clunky, uninspiring riffs for the next six minutes. "Song for Krom" brings things back up a few notches, featuring some interesting guitar leads and really rad spaced-out synths and effects later on, easily standing as the best straight-up Conifer material on the album. "History of Disappointment," "Breathe Hold," and "Into the Gauntlet" are all forgettably short, filler-esque pieces, albeit pleasant ones.
What's left? The title-track finale, the crown fire, the song that everyone will remember when they think of this album. My statement on how they do not need a singer to make their songs work still stands. But that doesn't mean I can't say that they need this singer. Like a degenerate Tom Waits living out his final days as a vagrant junkie, OXBOW frontman Eugene spews his madness all over this final track. Not only is Eugene's voice psychologically traumatizing - it perfectly augments Conifer's style. On "Crown Fire," they go from being slightly woodsy post-metal to a drug-ravished redneck enigma. The music is compelling and dynamic, and it doesn't matter whether that's from complementing the "vocals" or just trying to keep up. It all clicks on this song, and it's fucking awesome. In fact, I think I like Eugene in Conifer more than OXBOW.
Now that I'm done splooging all over the track, I have to reiterate: the album as a whole doesn't quite do it for me. I mean, yeah, the three good songs add up to 35 minutes of pleasure, which is quite hefty, but couldn't they have nixed the rest of it? There's absolutely no need for the three shorter songs, and "Cruciform Empennage" just makes me lose interest. Add to that the fact that they're easily at their best with a guest vocalist, and it makes me question. I suppose that perhaps the title track spoils it all...but why should I settle for less? Give me more of that, and you will pass.
Verdict: Indifference [3/5] (but totally worth it for "Song For Krom" and "Crown Fire")