Cthulhu rises from the depths. Seawater cascades in waterfalls down its body; its colossal form dwarfs a nearby castle, a monument to mankind’s delusions of superiority as if it were some child’s plaything. The logo in the top left reads “Crafteon,” a nod to Lovecraftian1 fiction, complete with dangling tentacles. Sure, this album’s exterior presentation pretty much screams “Eldritch bait,” but you know what? This is my 50th review for AMG, and I feel like indulging my base impulses in celebration. Hailing from the cyclopean wastes of, um, Denver, Colorado, Crafteon’s unsigned debut, Cosmic Reawakening, might not touch The Great Old Ones as an aural representation of H.P. Lovecraft’s concepts and atmosphere, but it’s a fun, quirky black metal record that’s certainly worth a few spins.
Crafteon sports quite a unique sound, especially when stacked against other black metal bands past or present. Rhythmically speaking, they are hardly beholden to genre conventions; there are blastbeats to be found, yes, but many of their compositions have a positively bouncy feel thanks to drum patterns derived from traditional metal and punk rock. While not exactly jubilant in personality, this non-traditional approach gifts Cosmic Reawakening with a sense of levity essentially absent from most black metal albums. A bit of cursory research reveals that multiple members of Crafteon are fans of (and have participated in) power metal bands, which may offer an explanation for both the band’s easy going approach and the melodic lead guitar work. Don’t go in expecting overt cheese, though; this record is only tangentially related to power metal in the same way as, say, Skeletonwitch, accenting minor scale tremolo runs with the occasional bittersweet hook to provide emotional nuance. The rhythmic and melodic variety are absolutely Cosmic Reawakening’s strongest assets, and it achieves something most scant few black metal albums can: It’s charming.
Though unconventional, Crafteon still owes much to black metal’s Norwegian forebears; at times it reminds me of early Emperor sans keyboards (“The Outsider”), or even Hammerheart-era Bathory (“The White Ship”). Derivative compositions are more than welcome with such reliable influences, but when Cosmic Reawakening isn’t preoccupied with flipping the black metal script, it can feel a bit too safe in its execution; “The Temple” and “From Beyond,” for instance, employ chord progressions that have been recycled annually since the genre’s inception. Yet no track certainly qualifies as a “dud,” and even those two numbers contain some of my favorites moments on the record, each sporting tempo hikes in the back-half that inject a welcome dose of Dissection-like adrenaline into the proceedings.
Regardless of whether Crafteon is performing straightforward black metal or black ‘n’ roll seemingly inspired by Misfits (“The Whisperer in the Dark”), the instrumentation can come across as stiff. The drums in particular, though good from a technical standpoint, feel a bit robotic, and occasionally it sounds like the guitarists are rushing the note progressions by a hair. Lord Mordi’s2 vocal performance, however, is a perfect fit for Crafteon’s multi-faceted aesthetic, as he delivers Inquisition frog croaks and Summoning-esque whispery rasps with equal panache. The production, like the performances, is a bit of a mixed bag. The dripping reverb applied to the drums and vocals provide Cosmic Reawakening with an appropriately otherworldly aesthetic, but the drums are a bit buried in the mix while the bass is mixed ridiculously high. All of these engineering choices add up to a rather loud album with an unmistakable sound that, as a result of my affinity for unconventional production jobs, mostly won me over in the end.
Lovecraftian themes in metal are, admittedly, an increasingly tired prospect, but while Crafteon is not quite able to stand toe to toe with the big names in Lovecraftian metal just yet, this is an undeniably exciting project. A bit of polish and a little more consistency will do this band wonders, yet Cosmic Reawakening is a totally memorable and undeniably fun listen as is, if not necessarily the best thing you’ll hear in the genre this year. If you decide to check it out (and you should if you’re a fan of melodic black metal), I recommend picking up the CD version; the band was kind enough to include a PDF of the album booklet with the promo we were sent, and the unique art and text layouts are just as charming as the music itself.