When I saw the promo descriptor for Northern Crown‘s debut, The Others listing it as “epic doom,” I took a flyer and grabbed it. You never know when you’ll stumble across the next While Heaven Wept or Atlantean Kodex, and I’d want to plunder all the glorious metal cred such a discovery would impart, while lording it over staff members in the AMG break room. So is this the doom juggernaut you’ve been waiting for? I can’t formulate the beginnings of a sensible answer to that question. Northern Crown is one of the most offbeat, unpredictable doom bands I’ve heard, and though there are moments of truly epical gloom present, this dusty trunk is tough to get a handle on, full as it is with strange relics defying identification, classification and pigeonholing. If you want doom that flies a freak flag, here it is.
The genius of this thing is how it sucks you in with an opener full of nods to Solitude Aeturnus, Candlemass and While Heaven Wept. Opener “With Malicious Eye” plums the depths of those doom stalwarts and revels in genre norms while executing the style very well. Vocalist Frank Serafine is a dead ringer for Rob Lowe (Solitude Aeturnus, Candlemass) and delivers his weighty lines with all appropriate anguish and sadness. Follow up “Surreality (The Tell-Tale Mind)” lures you further into a false sense of security with rich Hammond organs and a more rocking yet still orthodox variant of doom.
It’s not until “No One Came to Mourn Me” that the metaphorical rug gets yanked, introducing weird electronica and 80s style synths to what is a very downtrodden ode to alienation and loneliness. There’s a Woods of Ypres vibe present as Serafine delivers uber-depressive lyrics about human isolation and death, and just when things are poised to get even grimmer, this weird, upbeat techno line kicks in and tears at the very fabric of the song. It’s such an odd addition from out of left field, it’s tough to know what to make of it. Madam X says it sounds like someone was playing Ms. Pac-Man in the corner as they recorded and she’s not wrong. Oddly, it doesn’t entirely derail the song, which is actually quite poignant, arcade overflow and all.
“Apostate” starts life as a stripped down Kamelot-esque ballad before coming to a halt and restarting as a classic doom tune, and “A Pox Upon Your House” is a folksy, Hexvessel-like instrumental loaded with synths, piano and strings. The cornerstone of this weird platter is the 11-minute closer “Les Autres” which touches upon everything from spacey hippie jams, vintage doom, and even black metal before finally giving up its well-used ghost. It kicks off with 70s flavored Hammond organ runs that remind me of The Omega Man soundtrack before moving into traditional doom territory with slow riffs counterpointed by sweetly melancholy leads. The discerning listener will also detect a strong Kamelot vibe running through the writing and vocals and this mix of styles makes the mid-paced plod quite interesting. Things don’t get too weird until the 8-minute mark where they introduce faster tempos, crowd chants, hysterical soloing, harsh screams and death croaks. It feels like the same kitchen sink approach While Heaven Wept attempted on their last album, but it works and the 11-minutes flies by.
As weird as things get at times, there are no weak songs. While I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first, I’m oddly fixated on it and keep spinning it and it gets better as I do. There’s an occasional awkward transition and the Pac-Man thing still baffles me, but this is a really entertaining experimental doom album that scores big on originality. The Others sounds great too. It has a full, rich mix and there’s a warm depth to everything that reminds me of a prog-rock album recorded in the 70s.
I’m impressed with Frank Serafine’s vocals. He has the Rob Lowe thing going on but does a convincing Roy Khan bit too and even his blackened roars are respectable. His commanding presence binds the material together even when it falls down the rabbit hole into Bizarro World. A lesser vocalist couldn’t pull that off, so kudos are in order. The guitar tandem of Zachary Randall and Leona Hayward also acquit themselves very well, crafting quality doom riffs, classy leads and forlorn harmonies. Some of the solo work is outright gorgeous and makes me wonder why these cats aren’t signed by someone already. Randall’s keyboard work is also quite impressive and I’m even willing to consider the electronica mishap a mere blip on the screen.
The Others is a big blob of odd, but doom fans should definitely get their hands on it. It’s fueled this month’s break room braggadocio and I’m genuinely intrigued to see where the band goes from here. I hope they find that label deal they so richly deserve.