Crimson River – Here’s To The End…Again Review

I’ll be honest, I went into this review ready to bash this album. Crimson River is a silly name with awkward connotations, the album title doesn’t make any sense and the band’s logo makes them look like an evil tech company from an unproduced 90s Transformers movie. Still, I did my due diligence and spun the thing lest Steel withhold my precious gruel. With the opening Iron Maiden-y guitar notes, my preconceptions vanished like so many wasted years. I’ll be dammed if this thing didn’t rock my Smartwools right off! It was easily the most creative traditional metal record I’ve heard in a while. There’s Maiden, there’s Priest, there’s even some Loudness but none of it sounds derivative, copycat or forced. It just rocks. What makes this Crimson River flow oxbows around the crowd of retro-trad acts? Perhaps it’s all that crimson blood pumping from its metal heart.

Crimson River is a newish band from Eindhoven, Netherlands. According to their bio, they formed in 2011 but were “rehearsing in obscurity, finetuning their sound” and only played a few shows for fun up until this release. In 2019 they released a raw self-titled EP but Here’s to The End…Again marks their official debut. At 37 minutes, it feels a little short for the 11 years of practice the band claims to have put in but the material is all solid. The band cites NWoBHM along with Paul Gilbert and Yngwie Malmsteen as their influences and I can see that. There’s a foundation of classic metal tropes along with plenty of guitar gymnastics courtesy of lead player Kris van Rens. The four-piece is rounded out by rhythm guitarist/vocalist Danny Keijsers, bassist Kevin Megens (perhaps my new favorite musician name) and drummer Tom Koene. After multiple spins, it’s clear that these Dutch boys have done their homework and put their hearts into their playing. Songs like “We Are the Knights” grind at an energetic clip without a lot of chaff.

This band takes everything I love about olde metal and makes it sound fresh. There’s no irony or pretention, there’s no attempt to regain past glory and there’s no clumsy digital veneer. It’s simply four dudes playing good metal as their forefathers did before them. So many acts try too hard to sound retro, these guys simply plug in their guitars, play some tasty licks and lay down some solid grooves. The opening track, “Here’s to the End…Again,” delivers some creative pull-offs and classic guitar harmonies before launching into the verse. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but they are creating a big steel studded wheel that will make you want to nod your head and pump your fist. The fun bridge packs in more tasty harmony work as well as an expressive guitar solo before returning to the verse. Other bands going for the trad sound could learn from the creativity and economy on display here, especially for a self-released product.

Here’s to The End…Again has a warm, crunchy sound to it without the distracting digital cosmetics that make similar records feel overproduced. There’s a Kill ‘Em All-like rawness that amplifies the overall energy of the music. The songwriting shows room to grow but the tracks offer good variety to keep you engaged. “Native” infuses a variety of textures including slide guitar but the bouncing main riff feels like it could have been left off an early Anthrax album. “Requiem” is the longest track on the album and slows things down with some extended guitar work. Normally I like these types of slow-building epics, but the band loses its focus in the longer running time. “Katyusha” is a neat little instrumental break that covers a lot of ground and even gives my man, Kevin Megens a chance to slap the bass. Bands used to put these types of breaks in more often and I miss them.

I was initially excited to discover this record and played it a lot. Since then, I’ve cooled slightly on it. It’s a solid serving of no-nonsense traditional metal but may not have the sustaining power of a more sophisticated record. The bones are there but it needs a little broth. The biggest stumbling block is the vocals. While Danny Keijsers does a passable job and brings a certain Abbath-like “metal charm” to the proceedings, a better vocalist could elevate the material. For you olde timers and lovers of trad metal, take a plunge in the Crimson River. I’ve listened to it over a dozen times and I still say “Here’s to the end again.” Whatever that means.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self Released
Releases Worldwide: February 10th, 2023

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