Bands regularly lay claim to being ‘old school’, to bringing back the ‘glory days’. But from my experience, what they’re REALLY trying to tell you, is that they’re foisting their low budget recording quality onto you and they’re serving you a platter of replica tracks. This was my first thought when I saw that Necro and Equimanthorn’s big selling point on Pest was that their brand of Swedish black metal is ‘played in the old vein, no females or keyboards involved‘ naturally I prepared myself for the worst… Professing similarities to bands like Celtic Frost, Hellhammer and early Bathory, The Crowning Horror follows on from Pest‘s fairly well received Season of Mist release Rest In Morbid Darkness back in 2008 as well as an EP release earlier this year. With the lengthy five year delay, a label change (Agonia Records home to Ragnarok, Forgotten Tomb and Endezzma) and the expectation of potentially finding another band to fill the void left by Celtic Frost, despite my earlier misgivings, I was slightly interested to see what spike adorned, plague-riddled, Pest had to offer.
The Crowning Horror opens up with “The Funeral Hours”, it’s a plodding, methodical, instrumental with a scratchy almost vinyl feel about it while at the same time a clarity that I didn’t expect nor do I understand. It doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the album, but I’m guessing that because Bathory kicked off their self titled album in a similar way, with the moody “Storm of Damnation”, it’s a recipe or blueprint thing. The tracks that follow hit you dead on with their ‘first wave of black metal’ sound and things hot up fast. Necro (guitars, drums and vocals) and Equimanthorn (guitars and bass) have not deviated in any way from the recipe book, their sound is dark, fast, heavily distorted, lo-fi, makes use of simple riffing and a fat guitar sound and of course you have your stock standard anti-Christian themes to back-up this black-metal-by-numbers offering.
Despite indicating their similarities, Pest don’t actually achieve the cold, controlled, methodical, towering darkness that I grown to love about Celtic Frost. Rather, Pest have a thrashy feel that in instances like “Thirteen Chimes” brings to mind Mercyful Fate and a more recent find Magister Templi while in other instances (“Volcanic Eyes” and “A Face Obscured by Death”) reminds me of the Motörhead worship I experienced during my recent jaunt with Intöxicated‘s tomfoolery. Necro’s vocal style scurries somewhere between a primitive growl on the weirdly rocking “Devil’s Mark” and a plaintive, choked-up scream, colored with demented urgency on “Volcanic Eyes”. His vocals are enjoyable and suit the style of black metal Pest serve up, but they don’t carry sufficient malice or venom to keep my attention or to prompt me to head back through Pest‘s past discography.
Courtesy of Fred Estby (ex-Dismember/Carnage/Necronaut) and Andy Jackson (engineer to Pink Floyd) The Crowning Horror doesn’t entirely have the old school production Pest punt nor is it entirely clean, instead it occupies some sort of murky, sewer-like, middle ground. This does them a service on tracks like “The Funeral Hours”, “Thirteen Chimes” and “Eternal Curse” showing off their intricacies to the fullest.
While ‘Eternal Curse’ ended up being my favorite track, it also left me feeling vexed. It has an odd familiarity that pestered me intensely and somewhere around day three or so it dawned on me – ‘Eternal Curse’ is ridiculously close to “Voyage of a Wavering Mind” by Swedish progressive, death metal band In Mourning! I can certainly think of worse bands to emulate. There’s nothing new or original about The Crowning Horror and I wonder if maybe five years was rushing things a little… maybe they should have dragged this release out a little longer… and maybe added some evil clowns, just saying.