‘In The Hands Of The Betrayer’
Released: 14 October 2014
South Florida’s Northern Crown play classic, epic doom metal with a few modern twists, bombastic production and a sharp, metallic attitude. While the best song on this five-track EP is – inevitably – the cover of Candlemass’s classic ‘Crystal Ball’, there are moments within the original material where you feel you might be listening to one of that great Swedish band’s successors in the genre.
The opening, title track of ‘In The Hands Of The Betrayer’ does not showcase Northern Crown at their finest. It suffers from an awkward chorus and ungainly vocal phrasing, seeming unconvinced of its own merits. But then the US band picks up its game with ‘A Perfectly Realized Torment’, which is a compelling doom dirge featuring sweeping organs and slow, regal riffs. A low-key epic that falls short of inspiring but is very enjoyable.
Following the Candlemass cover (which largely stays true to the original but for a few tweaks) and a two-minute atmospheric interlude, the EP finally cuts to the chase with the most convincing composition, ‘To Thee I Give An Orchid’. This ten-minute monster is simple, patient and rewarding. While elsewhere Frank Serafine’s vocals flutter like a blindfolded butterfly, occasionally landing on a flower, here they are concise, controlled and direct, proving that power does not need to be self-indulgent.
Singing of alienation and despair, the vocals can sometimes a distraction: they’re too loud, too brash. In that sense, this is reminiscent of the recent release from Sweden’s Below (‘Across The Dark River’), where the music is often excellent but almost becomes secondary. Serafine is inspired by the likes of Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford, and there is a certain classic metal snarl to his tone that shines through when the vocal patterns and melodies are more subtly crafted.
The EP drifts to a gentle piano-accompanied finale, and then what remains are echoes of greatness unfulfilled. Northern Crown certainly have the armoury to excel, and they will surely build on this encouraging but flawed release as they look for more consistent quality. The work of drummer Josh Brown and Roberto Celentano on keyboards is elegant and effective, while guest appearances from members of psych metal band Orbweaver bring stacks of quality. Main songwriter and guitarist Zachary Randall is clearly bubbling with ideas and now the challenge is to mould them into tight, unfaltering arrangements.