Steel Druhm has been waiting for this for a long time! For the uninitiated, Crom is the brainchild of one Walter Grosse and he functions as a one-man-band, doing it all for the metal masses. His first album, 2008’s Vengeance, was one of those special sleepers that didn’t get nearly as much attention and praise as it deserved. Fusing viking, epic and power metal, it had a unique, engaging style all its own and the songwriting was top-notch (it almost sounded like Tyr mixed with Europe and Hammerheart-era Bathory if you can imagine that). So good was the material, years later, I still find myself singing the immortal line “I swear this oath, this oath of Wengeance...” at least once a week (wengeance, like revenge, is best served cold, with crackers and cheese). While the lyrics were based around viking and mythical themes, it had a dead-serious feeling that most power metal acts couldn’t come close to achieving. After a long wait, we finally get Of Love and Death. So, is it more viking/power with all the sacking and rampaging we expect? Well no, it’s something quite different. Apparently in the three years since Vengeance, Mr. Grosse grew tired of viking battles and blood oaths and turned all introspective and emo. This is an album steeped in the subjects of love, heartache, loss and loneliness. That’s right, he done gone and turned in his war hammer for a big-ass book of love poems. As odd as it seems, it doesn’t totally kill things and Grosse’s writing and performing chops are still there. However, this certainly isn’t the sequel I was hoping for and there are issues that ultimately render it a partial disappointment.
As a Crom disciple, I expected opener “Reason to Live” to involve honor, battle and bloodshed. In actuality, it deals with grief and mourning after a loved one dies or goes away (I’m not sure which). Despite the conceptual change-up, the song itself is very much in keeping with the Crom I grew to love. You get heartfelt vocals, impassioned guitar-work and a generally big, epic feel. It’s a solid song and Grosse’s voice shines during the chorus. The highlight comes with “Lifetime,” which could have been on Vengeance and has everything I love about these guys (I mean guy)! Featuring epic, lofty riffing and viking chanting, it’s what can best be described as pyre-metal (pat. pending). When Steel Druhm eventually ascends to Valhalla, my entrance music can be found at 1:38. Again, Grosse shows his emotive playing and even more emotional singing. It’s a great song, full of viking ethos even though he’s singing of loss and loneliness. Other respectable tracks include “My Destiny” and “This Dying World,” both recapture some of the magic from Crom‘s warrior past.
Ever wonder what Insomnium would sound like if they dropped the death vox and started writing angsty love songs? Well, “Just One Blink” should give you a pretty good idea how that would go. Featuring some highly cringe-inducing lyrics like “I just want you to like me...” it almost works due to the quality backing music. When you hear these lyrics, you’ll realize what an accomplishment that truly is. More lyrics like these ultimately become the big obstacle to enjoying Of Love and Death. While the topics of love and loss are fine, the delivery on several songs is flat-out cheesy and awkward. There’s something very disconcerting about teenage angsty lyrics pasted over epic/viking music. If Mr. Grosse was singing about deceased loves, it would work well. However, songs like “Just a Blink” and “Song for All the Broken Hearts” feature the most maudlin “I love you, why don’t you care” type of lyrics and it hamstrings my listening experience every time. Also working against the album is the imbalance between the really good songs and the really weak ones. It’s so stark, it makes you wish certain songs got dumped and this was released as an EP (its only seven songs and an instrumental as is).
I can’t say enough about the talents of Mr. Grosse. I love his voice, his guitar-work (his acoustic pieces are great) and his writing style. He shines on some of these songs, just as he did on Vengeance. The man has the knack for writing majorly epic shit that makes you feel like ransacking your neighbor’s vegetable garden (these tomatoes now belong….to ODIN!). As great as some of this stuff is, there’s a nagging feeling much of the material isn’t up to the level of his previous output (limited as it is).
After so eagerly awaiting this album, I hate to admit disappointment, but that’s how I feel. There are a few great songs and the rest are average to below average. I know its gotta be a tough transition from hearts-on-a-stake to hearts-on-a-sleeve, so I’m willing to be patient. However, if I don’t get my fix of epic viking goodness soon, I’ll be forced to swear an oath, an oath of wengeance! You’re officially on notice, Mr. Grosse. By Crom, strap on that damn sword and start writing pyre metal!