Well, I clearly didn’t see this one coming. Never heard of these guys, expected nothing, popped it in and HOLY SHIT! Insane, claustrophobia inducing, vicious, ugly, hateful blackened death of very high quality blasts you into assdust. Apparently, Witnessing the Fall is the second album by this brutal French unit (it seems weird to say brutal and French in the same sentence). Although I know nothing of their first release, I know this one should be labeled “Break in Case of Apocalypse” because that’s exactly what this reminds me of. Although they inhabit the same stylistic space as black/death acts like Behemoth and Belphegor, Svart Crown generate a gripping, uneasy vibe that the others lack and there’s a real aura of fear and dread generated on certain tracks that takes this to a darker, more disturbed place. One thing is for sure, this thing thing will rip and tear at your brainial areas if you let it (and you should).
After a ominously tension building introduction, Svart Crown explodes with violence and venom on “Colosseum” which blast beats away insanely and showcases some brilliantly wicked, sharp black metal riffs designed to lacerate. The vocals of JB Le Bail are effectively harsh, guttural rasps and roars and at times he seems to be channeling David Vincent. When they dial back on the blast beat assault here and there, the guitars of Le Bail and Klem Flandrois ooze evil, eerie wails and screeches. The song is barely three minutes long but you get a beating that feels like it lasted an hour. This is a stellar example of punishing but compelling blackened death metal, heavy on the black end. With no let up whatsoever they continue to pulverize with “Dogs of God” which starts out even more ferociously with manic blast beats and many more top-self black metal riffs. Svart Crown also sprinkles in some great darkened doom sections that really make the blast segments all the more vicious sounding. The highlight comes with “Nahash the Temptator” which features an inexorable crawling riff at 3:30 that reeks of pure evil and lunacy. This is simply a great fucking song and shows why blackened death can be so lethal when done right. Over the course of Witnessing the Fall, discerning metal ears will hear traces of Morbid Angel and Incantation right alongside hints of Deathspell Omega and the mixture is potent, powerful and oppressive.
If the rest of Witnessing the Fall maintained the same level of the first three songs, this would be a near perfect extreme metal album. However, there is a drop off from there, though not a huge one and while tracks like “Into the Demential Sea,” “Strength Higher Than Justice” and “An Eternal Descent” all impress, only epic closer “of Sulphur and Fire” is as flat out amazing as the lead off trio. Additionally, as the album plays out, it drifts closer to a more traditional death metal style and loses some of what made the first half so crushing and startling. Overall though, this is great collection of tracks and the only one that falls flat is “Here Comes Your Salvation.”
The production here is a mixed bag. While appropriately raw, it isn’t really low-fi and there’s enough clarity to hear what everyone is doing. However, the drum sound does weird things to my speakers at times and the overall sound quality seems too muted and low. Luckily, these problems are minor enough that they don’t impair the effectiveness of the music too much.
It’s always a special thrill to be blown away by a band you never knew existed and Svart Crown totally kicked my ass and terrorized my neighbors (they had it coming). This thing is a treasure trove of sick, ugly black metal riffs and blast beat abuse and brings a grim scowl to my face every time I spin it. I can’t imagine 2011 will keep churning out such impressive black metal but I hope it does. Get this album, it’s evil!