Crypt Sermon came out of nowhere with their 2015 Out of the Garden debut, stunning metaldom with an unusually mature take on doom in the Candlemass vein. The high level of songwriting and top-notch performances earned them a lot of attention in a hurry, and before the band knew it, they were an overnight doom sensation, getting asked to play numerous festivals and having their name mentioned in the same breath as more established doom acts. 2019 brings them to the crucible of the dreaded sophomore release, which has made and unmade many a band over the years. In their promo materials, the band candidly admits to being overwhelmed by the success their debut garnered, and that finding time to work on new material given all their newfound time commitments became a real challenge. So much so that they apparently wrote and discarded an entire album’s worth of material before settling on what appears here on The Ruins of the Fading Light. So what does the 2019 version of Crypt Sermon sound like? It’s basically the same sound, but darker and with outside elements like black metal making brief, shadowy appearances. At times there’s a noticeable similarity to a certain group of nameless ghouls as well. It carries over some of the debut’s brilliance, but shows some unsightly warts too. In other words, it’s a mixed Halloween bag of tricks, treats, Ghosts and ghouls.
As opener “The Ninth Templar (Black Candle Flame)” crawls from the grave, all sounds familiar and reassuring, until Brooks Wilson starts singing anyway. He completely owned the debut with his excellent Dio meets Rob Lowe vocals, but he sounds different here, like he’s trying to oversing, opting for a somewhat strained upper-range that doesn’t always work in the song’s favor. The delivery is different enough that I actually went and checked the promo notes to see if Brooks was still the vocalist. Despite this, the song itself is quite good, and one of the album highlights, almost sounding like a long lost cut from Epicus Doomicus Metalicus1. The riffs and mood click and it’s a memorable slice of up-tempo doom cake with hooks aplenty. Also very good is “Key of Solomon” which hits that classic doom sweet spot hard with powerful riffage and an eerie, epic mood akin to early Solitude Aeturnus. Brooks again eschews his mid-range, preferring his higher register but it fits the music better here and chorus is highly infectious. Also quite good is “Our Reverend’s Grave,” which feels like the companion song to “The Master’s Bouquet” from the debut. Brooks sounds more like his old self and the grim, gloomy but seething mood works wonders.
After this strong start, things go pear-shaped, with the remainder of the album being hit or miss. While “Christ is Dead” is an entertaining tune with subtle, vaguely blackened guitar flourishes adding an ominous element, this is partially undercut by a noticeable Ghost influence capering through the song’s core. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the two elements work at cross purposes here. The lengthy “The Snake Handler” also bears the unmistakable mark of Papa E. and it’s one of the songs that doesn’t drawn me in despite some impressive guitar-work. Then we get back to back interludes (for a total of 3, which seems like a effort to pad out the album for whatever reason) which add nothing while breaking the album’s flow and momentum. Things wind out rather anti-climatically with a few songs that aren’t bad, but don’t fully come together either. The closing title track especially has some glaring issues, with Brooks adopting a more hard rock/hair metal vocal style which feels disconnected from the underlying music. In fact, the entire song feels awkwardly pasted together like Frankenstein’s monster – functional but misshapen.
At 55 minutes, the album itself doesn’t feel too stretched, but several songs do, and some trimming would have been helpful. The presence of 3 interludes and the placement thereof seems ill-conceived and they function as impediments rather than enhancements. Brooks Wilson is a talented singer, but it feels like he’s overdoing it and trying too hard this time out. His new approach often leaves him sounding thin and without heft, and his older style suited the music better. Steve Jansson and James Lipczynski’s riffing is good and sometimes really good with a bit more dissonance to their playing that reminds me of Castle, and their solo-work is often wild and raging. It’s a shame some of their best moments occur in songs that aren’t quite up to snuff.
In the end, The Ruins of Fading Light is a flawed album with moments of inspired writing that show the potential heard on the debut. The band’s struggle to write a worthy followup to Out of the Garden comes across clearly in the music, and the album’s back-half sometimes feels incomplete and undercooked. I’m still a believer though, and Crypt Sermon‘s talent is beyond dispute. I’m hoping they can regroup and rediscover the muse that resulted in their striking debut. They’re simply too good to do otherwise.