Crimson Swan - UnlitCrimson Swan is a German atmospheric funeral doom band from Hamburg, Germany. With one EP under their belt from 2012, Unlit marks the band’s full-length debut. Readers of this site are likely aware that funeral doom and I rarely see eye-to-eye. My case of Angry Metal Attention Deficit Disorder™ is well-documented and as a general rule records that don’t pop out speedy tracks littered with engaging virtuoso performances or progressive wankery send me out to do what Steel Druhm calls kindly “moss gazing.” This isn’t to say that doom never moves me, though. I have a soft spot for Theatre of Tragedy‘s earliest stuff, My Dying Bride, The 11th Hour (put out a new record Warby!) and a few others. But my tastes are specific; picky even. When it comes to doom metal, expert songwriting, powerful builds, smart uses of dynamics and—crucially—good melody are necessities for keeping me mentally engaged.

I was as surprised as anyone when I started listening to Crimson Swan‘s debut album Unlit and fell instantly in love. I knew within 5 minutes of Unlit‘s first track that it was special, and would sum up why by saying this: Crimson Swan‘s sound is like if My Dying Bride met Agalloch and had a little German lovechild (let’s call him… Üter!). Üter’s riffs are thick, fat and bone-crunchingly heavy with an oppressive and slightly muddy production. While there are moments that pummel and crunch, huge stretches of Unlit is made up of whole note power chords at 60 bpm, a caricature of funeral dirges and plunging into Ahab territory. These moments lose me with so many bands, but Unlit is gripping—a record full of tension and a yearning for closure and resolution.

Unlike so many of their peers, Crimson Swan has a melodic side that speaks to a writing sensibility that so many doom bands lack. It’s not just the melodies are good, it’s that they serve the purpose of resolving the increasingly building tension that each song creates. Opener “Fade to Nothingness”—easily one of the best songs I’ve heard this year—starts with a single line of a melody played on a piano before giving way to the opening riff and priming the listener for a payoff that comes literally 2 minutes later. Title track “Unlit” opens with vocalist Simon’s1 best Aaron Stainthorpe impression, before pushing into harmonized cleans. When these melodies resurface again—seriously 3 minutes later after—it’s practically cathartic.

Crimson Swan 2015

In addition to using melody effectively, Crimson Swan also use harmony with the same skill. Not only does this separate them from the herd, but savvy use of harmony and counter-melody is a weakness of mine that Unlit exploits. The title-track “Unlit” features (slightly off) 3-part harmonies that work in spite of their warts. “Words of Perdition” features beautiful harmonies from one Imanthi Gräflich Monard—a local singer with a gorgeous voice—whose tone is a magnificent blend with Simon’s unsteady cleans.

Unlit‘s greatest strength, unfortunately, is also its biggest weakness. Your own love of funeral doom will dictate whether or not you agree with me, but there are a few places that maybe are drawn a little too far out. “A Waterfall of Sorrow” slows the record down a bit too much after an opening track that is among the finest of the year. “Accusations” doesn’t suffer from its length, but it’s the one time where the vocal harmonies are too undisciplined for me to enjoy—just off enough to cause my skin to crawl. Closer “Voidhaven” is good, but it also adds 8 minutes to an album filled with long songs and could likely have replaced “A Waterfall of Sorrow” as the second track or been taken off without hurting the album too much–even if it is an admittedly good closer. These moments demonstrate that Crimson Swan is dropping their first full-length record, and I suppose it’s only reasonable to expect rough edges from a novice band.

Still, Unlit is a striking record with 6 tracks that average around 8 and a half minutes a piece. The band demonstrates how white space in music can be used to increase tension, but have compositions that also exemplify the importance of the resolution of that tension and the power of dynamics. Unlit‘s music is dynamic2, depressive—gothic, even—and filled with sorrow, longing and anxiety. Crimson Swan is a band to watch, and I’ll be following their developments with great interest.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3 [CBR]
Label: Quality Steel Records
Websites: crimsonswan.de | facebook.com/crimsonswan | crimsonswan.bandcamp.com
Release Date: March 13th, 2015 [Available via Quality Steel’s website]

Show 2 footnotes

  1. I just want you all to know that I expended enormous amounts of self-control not giving him the last name Zürker when I saw that he had no last name listed. – AMG
  2. Even if the mastering isn’t…

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  • Malev Draizhen

    Damn, that linked excerpt has some beautiful clean vocals and melodies. Funeral anything ain’t my thing but after that I’ll definitely check it out.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Good to see there’s been more of a presence of Angry Metal Guy at Angry Metal Guy this year. I always wonder if the site’s name will be changed to something like Steel Madams or Dr. Kronos.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      My pick goes to “Grymm’n’Grier(dot)com”

    • Steel Metal Druhm Guy is the fallback title.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        ; )

      • Refined-Iron Cranium

        “Steel Metal”

      • Angry Steel Metal Druhm Guy X, actually.

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Seriously Flustered Steel Drummer?

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Madam Grymm Steel Fisting Angry Druhm Guy

  • Monsterth Goatom

    The quality of band names doesn’t often get mentioned, but I find “Crimson Swan” very evocative. Unlit sounds like it hits most of the right bases, so looking forward to hearing this.

    I second another 11th Hour release.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Agreed on the band name, it wouldn’t work for any other genre but works perfectly here, which is great. Warby needs to do more Hail of Bullets too!

      • Monsterth Goatom

        I didn’t realize Warby was part of HoB. Quite a 180 from what he does in 11th Hour. Personally, I like everything about HoB except Drunen’s vocals. I like my metal growlers and shriekers as much as the next guy, but Drunen sounds like someone with borderline Laryngitis shouting.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    This sounds good…could be my Doom:VS for 2015
    I do relate to this review. I have a love hate relationship with funeral doom…the hate is usually due to the doom being too funeraly…eye of solitude lost me with their last release…more likely to induce a coma than cold chills…

    • Monsterth Goatom

      I don’t know. I think what saved Eye of Solitude’s Canto III for me was the almost over-the-top drama, the sudden shifts in sound from quite despair to crushing doom, and the melodies. They always kept things interesting.

      As much as I enjoy Evoken’s catalogue, for example, their songs can sometimes get hooked on a depressing feeling and remain stuck slouching around a musical rut. Hence I would often find myself nodding off. Good music to nap to, I guess.

      What I find interesting is the sometimes tenuous line between Doom and Funeral Doom (I don’t even see a “Funeral Doom” tag on AMG). I don’t like to be too academic and focused on pigeonholing bands, but maybe Funeral Doom is something to which Hellions can slow dance (go Sandman Slim!), while Doom encapsulates Wilde’s observation that “we’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.

      • basenjibrian

        OMG. (Fanboy Warning) A reference to Sandman Slim! I love Kadrey! Had the luck to meet him (he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area) and have him sign my copy! He is not as intimidating as his cover photographs would suggest! (LOL)

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Yea, he looks pretty badass in that book jacket photo. I’m reading Devil Said Bang now.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Oh I liked Canto III, it was the one they released last year that really lost me, I couldn’t even get to the end of it, so tedious.

        Thats a good non academic analysis! In which I count my self in the Wilde camp. Pallbearer and Avatarium’s releases would be up there in my all-time fav’s list. Crypt Sermon’s album is shaping up to be a favourite this year.

        It’s the drawn out guttural vocals that can kill it for me in ‘funeral doom’ they sometimes seem totally pointless and distracting. On Doom:VS my favourite passages are the instrumental or spoken word sections. Earth’s ‘Bees made honey in the lions skull’ is probably the best funeral doom that isn’t a funeral doom record I can think of…It has a brilliant crushing melancholic atmosphere with huge tones and big soaring guitar melodies, no need for vocals.

  • Feytalist

    “German atmospheric funeral doom” – four of my favourite words!

    You know, I read this review and immediately knew I wanted to listen to this. I totally forgot – and didn’t even need – to check the score. This is what a good review looks like, ladies and gents.

  • RuySan

    I think i can cope with a german Agalloch and MDB lovechild.

  • Wilhelm

    Sounds passable but not intriguing, but I’ll have to listen to a whole song to see if there’s much else happening. From the sample, it sounds a bit over-produced and the DR rating could be slightly better…I find a hard time getting into funeral doom released in the past say, 10 years as the general atmosphere has me thinking of a band in the studio vs one near a swamp and by the simplistic slow nature of the genre, atmosphere is the key (innovation be damned).

  • basenjibrian

    Drat. Not on iTunes of their Bandcamp yet.
    Will give the ep a listen, though!

    • sssgadget

      Available on Google play though. Listening to it right now!

    • Tiny label. Not sure if it’s going to be available digitally at all.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    >Falls “instantly in love” with a record.
    >Still gives it less than a 4.

    Why I come to this site.

    • Tentacles

      Maybe it’s my imagination, but I think the overall scoring this year has been tough even by AMG standards.

      Not saying that’s a bad thing, mind!

    • Because every other site never gives a less than a 4 or a 3.5?

      And hey, I don’t even think score grading can be taken seriously anywhere, but I know that a 4 or a 4.5 here is a fucking big thing anywhere else. For anything to be given a 5 I guess it would have to be an unanimous acclaim by all the staff or a Major Executive Decision by AMG himself and I’m not against any of that TBQH.

      • Refined-Iron Cranium

        Or unless you’re Happy Metal Guy and you’re reviewing a White Wizzard record…

        • True, but we all know HMG is “special”

          • And that 5 cost him his life.

          • Refined-Iron Cranium

            FATALITY

          • BarryLeFreak

            Forcibly retired

        • Carlos Marrickvillian

          never to be lived down…
          I heard he went to live on a farm

    • Monsterth Goatom

      I guess it’s like when you fall in love with someone. Hot passion eventually gives way to a more steady-burning flame, and space opens up for calm reflection on the relationship?

  • doom-erik

    Haven’t heard this one, but listened to the EP on Youtube. Not bad. Like someone commented there, not unlike the dutch melodic doom/death band Officium Triste.

    • Yeah, Officium Triste is great. And they have a connection to Ophis, too.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    Easily the “eye of solitude” for doom metal….on all respects! And thats good! Nice catch AMG!