As I’ve mentioned around these parts before, I am first and foremost an emotional listener. Technical prowess means little to me if it doesn’t serve to elevate a certain subset of sensations. This explains a lot about my listening habits. Progressive metal, which frequently employs storytelling techniques to build towards crescendos of sentiment, is commonly my favorite subgenre; conversely, most technical death metal leaves me cold with its clinical detachment. It also shows why David Gilmour will never leave the upper echelons of my favorite musicians, considering his mythical ability to pull directly on the heartstrings with a bare minimum of chords. On their sophomore effort Godspeed, German outfit Crone weave stories of lives ended in tragedy. They speak the language of emotion as few recent bands have, conveying an avalanche of feelings with their soaring harmonies and gently weeping guitars.
The closest musical ancestor to Crone is not Pink Floyd, however; rather, the band projects that vulnerable despondency of Alice in Chains, particularly in the tearful drawl of Phil Jonas (Secrets of the Moon,) which isn’t dissimilar from the late Layne Staley. What he lacks in sheer power, he makes up for in emotional engagement, particularly in the subtle rasp and crackle during quieter moments (the hushed loneliness of “Mother Crone” is a good example.) But whereas there is something stark about Alice, Crone specializes in a grand, enveloping sound. The beautifully arranged bass pulls the music into a warm enclosure, playing an active role around the boundaries of the sound and breathing life into the composition. Understated, the drums refrain from overworking and crowding out the arrangements, which gives them gargantuan weight when the music takes off into one of its powerful crescendos.
The focal point is the guitarwork, however, and it is wonderfully varied and deeply engaging. When the music is subdued, echoing acoustic strums set a downtrodden sense of desolation, with a glow at its core that belies a ray of hope in the distance. But when the songs peak, subtle plucking and murmurs of feedback give way to splendid walls of reverberating guitars, improving on the Crippled Black Phoenix formula, overlaid with crisp, seething guitar solos that combine addictive hooks with earnest passion and affecting drama, reminiscent at different turns of Gilmour (“Mother Crone,”) Gary Moore (“The Ptilonist”) and Antimatter (“Demmin.”) The balance between recognizability and variety is struck perfectly, mixing in verses of ominous thrumming, punchy chugs and shimmering post-rock, and the execution is near flawless.
All this would mean very little without the top-tier songwriting. Crone are masters of dynamic compositions, flicking effortlessly between the small, personal and melancholic and the grand, climactic, life-affirming statements. Take heed of the rushing tidal waves of harmonizations on “The Ptilonist”1 and how it unspools into a maelstrom of beautiful freestyle soloing. The fantastic, crashing transition in “Demmin,” like clouds breaking open in triumph. Even the additional textures of female vocals and saxophone on “H”2 are interwoven deftly, never losing control but never sounding restricted. Only the addition of vocal samples seems unnecessary, and is a little overdone on the slightly less inspired “The Perfect Army.” The band does not need these to tell their stories.
One of the great invisible forces behind the emotional engagement on Godspeed is the excellent production. The sound is crisp and warm, wrapping the morose stories in a melancholic blanket that allows the more hopeful moments to shine through. The dynamic master showcases the instruments perfectly. The bass has an active presence, a rich underbelly of a lovely tone, and the drumkit is full of natural depth. Nor can I find fault with the spot-on mix, which guides the spotlight so naturally you never even really notice.
With its haunting presence of tragedy and contrasting rays of hope amongst tumultuous harmonies, Godspeed came out of nowhere and knocked me flat on my back. Everything is geared towards an emotional listening experience: the warm production, the searing guitar solos, Jonas’ cracked drawl and the dynamic song constructions that let you wallow in quiet melancholy before burying you in avalanches of cascading sensations. Such daring earnestness and passionate delivery coupled with the top-notch songwriting would be a triumph for any band, yet Crone achieve it with flying colors on the dreaded sophomore release, launching themselves straight into my heart and into the upper echelons of 2018’s plentiful quality releases.
- About inventor and parachuting pioneer Franz Reichelt, who jumped to his death from the Eiffel Tower while testing a wearable parachute of his own design. ↩
- This track pays homage to stage actress Peg Entwistle who, in 1932, jumped to her death from the giant letter “H” on California’s famous Hollywood sign. ↩