Crawl Below – 9 Mile Square Review

For being a metal review site, an awful lot of barely-metal promos sneak past our guard gorilla and land in the laps of unsuspecting writers. Staff more senior and wily than myself have learned to decipher their signs and avoid them like that guy at the party who wants to tell you about his Battlestar Galactica fan fic.1 However, because these promos are most often generously tagged as “doom,” yours truly unwittingly walks right into them. Only after I’ve committed do they tear off their fake mustache, throw down their prop cane and gleefully shout, “Ha ha! It is I, unrelated genre!” Thankfully, I’m an open minded metal head, and these things have worked out splendidly in the past. New England’s Crawl Below caught my attention with the “doom” tag, but also because their album 9 Mile Square is a concept piece about the historic and contemporary region of Norwich, Connecticut. This decidedly non-metal theme should have tipped me off, but here we are. Still, this album is at least metal adjacent, so when taken on its own terms, how does it fare?

The project of one Charlie Sad Eyes, Crawl Below have apparently been around for several years, releasing three previous albums that sound absolutely nothing like this one, or indeed each other. For 9 Mile Square, they’ve settled into a sound heavily indebted to lethargic early aughts indie rock, The Cure and yes, doom metal. If Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon fame had started 40 Watt Sun rather than Patrick Walker, it would sound a lot like this. Tracks like “Monument” lean more into the latter, especially the fuzzed out sadness of The Inside Room, while “Kingdom of the Ruined” leans more indie rock. Honestly, for a musician that has dabbled in so many sounds, 9 Mile Square is surprisingly cohesive.

This cohesion is an asset, as Charlie’s breathy but emotive vocals sit comfortably among the gauzy guitar distortion and slow, deliberate pacing. As each song progresses, it’s like being drawn a little further into a velvet sack. The contours are smooth and warm and there’s nothing to jolt you out of the mood Crawl Below creates. “Tarnished the Name” blends lilting clean guitar lines with simple distorted strumming and layered, ethereal vocals. A clean, pastoral mid-section pleasantly accompanies lyrics about a (literal? metaphoric?) beheading. While “Monument” features the most doom-like riffs, that same pastoral feeling keeps things more in shoegaze than metal territory. The only song that seems to break the feeling of one, continuous rolling composition is centerpiece “Kingdom of the Ruined.” With its clear melodic intro, oft repeated chorus and simpler, more rigid structure, it has the feeling of an easy radio single.

“Kingdom of the Ruined” aside, the uniformity of 9 Mile Square does keep it from sticking much in the memory, even if the listening experience is generally pleasant. It doesn’t help that most songs have a tendency to go a bit nebulous at one point or another, repeating motifs a few too many times and losing the structural thread. The closing title track is an example of this. Meanwhile, “Fire On the Hill” seems to be made up entirely of a longer song’s mid-section. It’s the shortest track by half, and is more of a sketch than a composition. That said, what would help take things to another level is not in-song tinkering as much as attention to album layout. Every track strikes the same languid tone, never deviating, which creates a feeling of drag even though the album clocks in at a mere 36 minutes. 

If you’re looking for doom adjacent indie rock to help you feel sad about a town in Connecticut, look no further. In fact, you don’t even have to care about Norwich to wallow in the melancholy that Crawl Below serves up on 9 Mile Square. There’s an easy, if a bit loose and monotonous, energy to these vignettes of time and place that make repeat visits rewarding. After cycling through so many different sounds, Charlie Sad Eyes has grown into his name with this one.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self Released
Websites: crawlbelow.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/crawlbelow
Releases Worldwide: February 12th, 2021

Show 1 footnote
  1. I could stand to hear some of that. – Steel
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