Honestly, I haven’t been excited for a new release from The Crown in a long time. For one, the quality of their releases has slowly declined since their epic Hell Is Here debut back in 1999. Over the years, members have come and gone and many of the founding members have branched out to other projects to explore or expand on their sound in bands like Marko Tervonen’s Angel Blake and Johan Lindstrand’s One Man Army and the Undead Quartet. Some of these comings-and-goings prompted the band to bring in Tomas Lindberg to cover vocal duties on Crowned in Terror  and Jonas Stålhammar (God Macabre and the short-lived Dobermann) to rasp it out on 2010s Doomsday King. The former album was then re-released as Crowned Unholy when Lindstrand returned and replaced Lindberg’s growls with his own, and the latter album was a somewhat disappointing comeback for the band after a six-year absence (for those that disagree with my feelings toward Doomsday King, know that Steel Druhm has been whipping my ass all over the office for my “blasphemous” statements). But now, The Crown is at it again and, after a decade of absence, Lindstrand has taken his rightful place on the throne. Will life-long fans of The Crown finally get that comeback they truly deserve? Can The Crown prove to the metal community that Death Is (indeed) Not Dead?
Within the first few seconds of “Headhunter,” they not only show that Death Is Not Dead, but The Crown crowns you so fucking hard that you’ll never question them again. “Headhunter” incorporates everything that The Crown does best; neck-breaking Hell Is Here and Deathrace King-like thrash, gargantuan death chugs that crush your bones and transform your body into a sack of skin, and melodic moments that borrow from the likes of At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, Witchery, and The Haunted. The songwriting is memorable and inspired, the sound is heavy-as-fuck, the solos are perfectly placed, and Lindstrand’s vox are earthshattering.
If you’re looking for some of that classic The Crown thrash, look no further than the aforementioned “Headhunter,” “Speed Kills (Full Moon Ahead),” and “Horrid Ways” (the latter has the most badass riff of the album). Never to be outdone, the death elements in their songs are rib bruising. They come down hard and fast, refusing to let up until your pathetic lungs collapse. Examples include the crushing steamrollers that are “Iblis Bane,” “Struck by Lightning” and “Herd of Swine.” The standout in this respect is “Herd of Swine;” where Tervonen proves his abilities behind the kit are on par with his abilities on the fretboard. Throw in the killer intro by longtime bassist Magnus Olsfelt and some guitar support from newbie Robin Sörqvist, and “Herd of Swine” tramples you with its little pig feet. Add some of the best melodic leads and solos yet written by the band and you get highlight tracks like “Ride To Ruin” (which sounds like Goatwhore sexed up The Crown) and “Meduseld.” They just feel so damn good.
But these riffs hold no weight without the barks, rasps, and growls of Lindstrand. His vocal contributions are equivalent to knocking down a house and then setting the rubble on fire. This may seem unnecessary, but you’re wrong. Without fire, it’s just another wrecked building. Be it the Angelripper-like barks on “Iblis Bane,” the anguished roars in the cover of Paradise Lost’s “Eternal,” or the goosebump-inducing grunts at the end of “Herd of Swine,” Lindstrand sounds better and meaner than he has in years.
While Death Is Not Dead is an absolute delight, the production is not. Thankfully the mix is decent and allows every instrument to add their weight to the devastation, but the brickwalling causes The Crown to rattle on your head at times. However, the quality and modernism in the sound beats the shit out of the production found in most of their catalog. And though Death Is Not Dead is not overly long, when “Meduseld” comes to an end, I find myself feeling content. Not only is “Meduseld” one of the best death metal instrumentals I’ve heard in a long time, it’s also the perfect way to close out the album. Actual closer “Godeater” is their weakest track and feels like a letdown after “Meduseld.” Aside from these issues, Death Is Not Dead is a killer album and the proper comeback for longtime fans.