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I’m almost positive that before the release of this album, a great deal of fans would have declared the band pretty much dead since all the original members with the exception of Mark Hunter had left. I mean of course, where’s the hope of the band releasing anything good now right? Well the band proved all of those fans wrong and how! This album is one of their best, hands down. Just listen to the title track for further proof, as it blends all the past eras of the band into one vicious Molotov cocktail of a song with added technicality. “Kings Of The Shadow World” also follows a similar twisted path to earth-shattering effect. Heck the song even has a piano outro! Talk about adding diverse elements to their sound. Fucking epic.
To the curious who are eager to see what the new side of this band sounds like, I would say just listen to the album. But then again since this is a review so I’ll try and break it down for you. No Chimaira has not lost any of the elements that made them a tour de force of modern metal but have rather added new and varied elements to the DNA of their sound (which might I add, is pretty varied in itself). Variety blended with more variety? Yep I’m game. They’re still pissed off as fuck, but now with an added edge. Like others have already pointed out, there is a much more heavy helping of progressive and dissonant elements in the music than in previous releases, probably with the exception of the 2009 masterwork The Infection. Listen to “Wrapped In Violence” to see what I mean and you’ll find yourself screaming “Welcome to the separation, say goodbye to your generation!” Also unlike their previous albums, the clean vocals are almost completely absent here.
The manic opening chugging of “The Machine” should be enough to convince you that they haven’t lost it at all. “No Mercy” is even more vicious with hard hitting riffs and some of the most seething vocals of Mark Hunter. Likewise with the aptly titled “All That’s Left Is Blood” with some of the best riffs on the album. “I Despise” has a brooding atmosphere combined with a speedy mosh-inducing riff that works wonders and “Love Soaked Death” merged the blistering groove of the band with melodic brutality. “Plastic Wonderland” brings back more of the industrial influence of the previous album with slamming technical riffs almost reminiscent of Decapitated at their best along with groovy drums to boot. There are just the choice cuts, but make no mistake - every single song on the album fucking slays. The odd turkey is undoubtedly “The Transmigration” with industrial effects and its mournful guitar picking would be right at home on a doom metal record. Don’t let the term scare you off - even as an interlude, the song rules.
The thing is at first listen, the album just rushes past you as you wonder what the hell just happened. The hooks are buried much deeper in the songs as compared to previous releases so believe me when I say that repeated listens are the only way that the real majesty of the album will be revealed to you. Take heed, fellow metalheads. The one slight drawback if I had to nit-pick would be that there is no one sprawling progressive track to wind the album up in the case of previous releases. Not that it even matters but man I would’ve loved for them to have had an epic progressive metal dessert equaling “The Heart Of It All” at the end of the album. Seriously it’s such a damn shame that this album had to be their last. A great void in the groove metal needs to be filled by another band of equal stature and I truly hope that one comes along soon enough. Chimaira you will be sorely missed.
With five members of the trademark Chimaira line-up gone, with only original vocalist Mark Hunter remaining, most fans were skeptical of Chimaira's future. I don't think I ever noticed what happened to the band, to be honest. Obviously half of the band had already left before the previous album, The Age Of Hell, but the core songwriters of the band were still left and the album was good. When this album came out, however, I was a bit shocked and certainly surprised to see the massive line-up change. I didn't really know what to expect but since it was Chimaira, I was gonna give it a try at least.
The album instantly from track one gives a feeling that the band has changed, indeed. It still sounds a bit like Chimaira, but I can really hear that it's yet a new band playing on this album. The style, sound and feeling of former long-time guitarists Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries is gone, and present is a more progressive guitar style. This is most likely a result of new lead guitarist Emil Werstler from Dååth, which I'm not really familiar with, but from what I've understood he's pretty much a modern metal guitar virtuoso. The other new members don't really stick out, but I'm happy that Mark found Sean Zatorsky, who contributes some great keyboards and electronics - an essential ingredient in the Chimaira sound.
As the album spins on I realize that most of the songs tend to pass by unnoticed. There are few tracks that catch a slightest bit of attention from me, which is very unusual for a Chimaira album. The album's new style and ingredients feel more like other modern metal bands, whereas I always found Chimaira to be one of few interesting, heavy and fairly "true" metal bands of the modern scene. The music here just has another kind of groove that wasn't present on earlier albums, and that kind of groove is the kind that "every other band" plays. Most songs just tend to sound like, let's say, predictably boring and goalless. The absence of classic Rob or Matt riffs are really missed throughout.
The production is on-par with the musical quality of this album. It's the worst album production of Chimaira's yet, apart from their debut, maybe. It's clearly brick-walled, with some typical modern digital clipping present everywhere. It's certainly annoying when listening with headphones. The album's overall sound is rawer, however, which is pretty cool and suitable for their sound, but it's also perhaps a bit muffled at times as well. At the end I can wish that the guitars and bass maybe could've been a bit more clearer, but the drum sounds, keyboards/electronics and vocals all work well.
Crown Of Phantoms is not really a bad album by any means. I'm sure it will appeal to many fans of modern metal, but as a Chimaira album and a long-time fan of theirs, I'm left quite disappointed and missing their old, classic line-up. The album was done in a time when the band, especially vocalist Mark Hunter, had gone through a lot of rough times the past two years or so. I can imagine the struggle trying to record a new album with a completely new band, while still trying to maintain that trademark Chimaira sound. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out in the end and this album would, not too surprisingly, become their last. Perhaps Chimaira should've ended with The Age Of Hell, which I like a lot, and released this as something else. Who knows?
Check out: Plastic Wonderland, The Transmigration, Spineless, Love Soaked Death.
Exit both guitar men, vocalist left as the sole original member. There's some good cause for worry for ya going into this one, right? Sure, the 'The Age of Hell' was made with half the band crew of the album prior to it, and it did just fine, but this time they lost one of the band's main creative forces in form of axeman Rob Arnold. That also raises the question of whether the band should even continue under the same moniker, whatever new talent may enter in his stead. Can the new configuration, including half the guys from Dååth, really deliver a product that satisfies the world's hunger for more Chimaira?
Luckily, this is neither the separate entity nor the soulless clone that I braced myself for. As can be expected, it's somewhat of a different beast, but also one that holds an intimate understanding of the band's fundamentals. Still groove, still a hardcore edge, still merging various other genres and somehow making sense with them all. Keyboards and electronics also continue to be integral to Chimaira's sound, providing a layer of atmosphere somewhat unusual for bands of their ilk. However, there's also clear telling of the new line-up having put their personal stamp on things. The guitar work for one is more technical and progressive and is less rooted in older metal styles like thrash. Get a load of the frenzied, dissonant lead bit early on in "The Machine", sprawling with Jeff Loomis-like boldness and energy. The drumming fares much the same, with some creative and less straight choices such as the fast hi-hat in "I Despise". "The time has come to reboot the machine" go the self-referencing lyrics to the opening song, making the movie term "gritty reboot" come to mind as a way of describing the album. It's a mostly new cast and crew doing a new take on an old property, and 'Crown of Phantoms' indeed cranks up darkness and aggression to a degree not seen since their 2000 EP. No ballady stuff like "Beyond the Grave" on the last album (save for an interlude cut), barely any clean vocals.
The grittiness also comes in form of the production, which is a bit shocking compared to the slick, finely tuned character of old. It's no demo by any means, but the drums seem way less sampled and the instruments are mixed with each other in a more brutish manner, making for a decidedly rawer and muddier presentation. After a short period of adjustment, I find that it's actually done with a lot of skill and artistic vision, resonating quite nicely while still exuding a spontaneous, "just plug in and go" vibe, almost like a window into the band's rehearsal space. Again, it's a studio job alright, no doubt with plenty of labor put into it, but the stripped down feeling is there nonetheless. What's important is that the production absolutely serves the songs, expertly written and brick-shittingly heavy as is somehow retained from the old regime.
Yes, I considered going with the obvious "All that's left is Mark Hunter" for the title. Then I actually heard the album, and could not be happier to have been proven wrong. 'Crown of Phantoms' provides an interesting, challenging change of pace, one that keeps things fresh and exciting while still giving fans their expected biennial Chimaira fix. In a long stagnant scene where most of the remaining players keep crapping out crap as an excuse to go on tour, go get yourself a taste of what truly heartfelt, visionary metalcore/groove metal sounds like. My new pick for Chimaira's best, I think.