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When it comes to the general idea of a great metal band either having a reunion or a comeback, the ultimate test and often the worst enemy of the band doing this is expectation. This is multiplied several times if you have two bonafide classic heavy metal albums under your belt and have lost one of the greatest voices of the 80s to a complete inability to reconcile personal differences, as is the case with Crimson Glory. Ultimately, the downfall of this band is that they're a little too adventurous for their own good, something which manifested on the lackluster tribal rock album “Strange and Beautiful” and is very much present on here.
Unlike the last album they put out, “Astronomica” is a metal album, and shares some stylistic commonalities with “Transcendence”. The problem is that there isn’t really any coherent sense of direction from song to song, and sometimes individual songs come off as disjointed and schizophrenic from section to section. There is a massive collection of half ballads on here (a little more than half of the album actually) which make Iced Earth’s “The Dark Saga” sound like a 1984 thrash metal album. And unlike the older ballads with Midnight, most of them tend not to have a great deal of emotion behind them musically or vocally, typified mostly in the flat and redundant “The Other Side of Midnight”.
Wade Black vocally is quite competent, but like any vocalist who isn’t involved in the compositional process, is also completely dependent on whoever is writing the songs in order to sound good. All you need to do is listen to one verse of “War of the Worlds”, which is one of the best songs on here, to hear that these vocal lines were not written to be catchy or memorable, but to showboat a singing range that probably 90% of the human race couldn’t achieve while singing along. Even King Diamond’s most run-on verses on his lesser known works have at least some semblance of musical coherence.
When Midnight wailed away on classics such as “Red Sharks” or “Mayday”, there was a melodic point to what was going on; which can not be said for most of the vocal acrobatics that Black is being commanded to perform. And when not jumping octaves seemingly at random, Wade’s vocals will often also be either too subdued or drenched with so many studio effects that you can hardly understand a word of what’s coming out of the speakers. Listen to several sections of “New World Machine” or “Cyber-Christ” and you’ll get the general idea.
Having said all of this, there are a few solid metal tracks on here that redeem what is definitely a troubled studio album. “Cyndonia” is a solid power ballad in the same vain as “Painted Skies”; although Wade’s vocal delivery is not quite as commanding or riveting, but well done nonetheless. “Touch the Sun” also reaches back to the “Transcendence” era of the band, though a little heavier on the eastern music influences. It’s sort of a mishmash of “Eternal World” and “Masque of the Red Death” with a much more active bass presence. And despite some problems with the verses, “War of the Worlds” and the WWII inspired prelude “March to Glory” are also solid power metal, particularly in the thematic guitar melodies.
It’s a mistake to fully condemn this album, despite that this is nowhere near the caliber of what these guys accomplished in the 80s with Midnight. Most of the reviews blasting it are flying completely on the expectation of a return to what the debut and “Transcendence” were, which is unrealistic, even if the band themselves stated that that is what they were shooting for. If you take the album in itself, it’s of roughly the same caliber as Iced Earth’s mid to late 90s material, which is somewhat to be expected since both bands originated from Florida. Picture either “The Dark Sage” or “Something Wicked this Way Comes”, but with a singer similar to Tim Owens instead of Matt Barlow and you’ll have roughly the right idea.
What to say. Reunions for a few shows sometimes work, comebacks (very) seldom do. Sadly this is only one more for the road. I find both the straightforward, self-titled debut and the more elaborate Transcendence great. I view Strange and Beautiful as a very commercial, but solid album. While this ranges from melodic metal to astro doomsday rock, it’s neither great nor solid. It's more like a sample of animal excrements - could quite possibly be useful for certain research purposes, but no one likes handling it.
Not to put us in any doubt of what kind of album this is, Crimson Glory gives us March to Glory: three and a half minutes of old news flashes and quotes from some of the more dramatic events in world history, accompanied by march drums and what is probably the nicest guitar tone on the album. It still doesn't come close to save the first track. The first disappointment.
First implies there's more to come, and sadly CG doesn't waste any time. The second disappointment comes with the following track. Wade Black, the new vocalist does a passable job when doing "clean" vocals (his aren't clean from false tones and what more though), but then the music gets faster and he tries something more extreme. Certainly, it's extremely bad. He's not singing, not growling, grunting or screaming in any listenable way. He is shrieking. Sucking might be another appropriate description. Cut short, he hasn't got anything good to offer, so the former Savatage drummer Steve Wacholz does the best he can to make it interesting, with a few bombastic elements, but songwriters Jon Drenning (guitars) and Jeff Lords (bass) do their very best to hold him down with chords of such a type that they either find a new audience, or find none at all.
You think I'm pushing this with Mr. Black's voice? Well, disappointment three starts with some B-movie robotic voice effect over his. I've thought about this, thoroughly, carefully and long, but this is the only time I've found that to be an improvement.
How nice wouldn't it be if Black was the only problem, if I could hope that they made another album with a proper vocalist that worked well because below it all, they were still good? Now the band's put quotes of disaster prophecies in the booklet between the lyrics to keep the interest up. It's a bad sign when even the band realizes that they need something along those lines.
There's guitarwank spread out, and not in the good sense. More the "take any guitarscream, play it slower and add a few hand movements so that it'll look more advanced"-style. To ensure its effect they repeat it. Distorting a little, or screaming one verse out of two won't make Crimson Glory again. Trying every recording effect available to mask the shortcomings of the vocalist and songwriting won't make them better.
Fair enough, there's only one problem with the songwriting: A lack of good ideas. Now nothing happens, song after song. Oh yes, there's like a cool lead here and a skilled drummer there - but that makes for one, maybe two songs, not then. The only thing moving is the time, and as a listener I'm painfully aware of that.
There are a few songs that turn out different. Edge of Forever is a power ballad in all aspects but the lyrical one. The instrumentation is perfectly acceptable, by-the-book standards. Problem is, to make a ballad good emotion is a must. Neither lyrics nor vocalist convey that, and effectively locks this song in place about 120 levels below Scorpion's Wind of Change. Cyber Christ is, as its title suggests, heavily synth-laden, with some new vocal effects. They've opted for a heavier guitar sound as well, and while that works well during the bridge it's quite apparent that the rest of the song last longer. Cydonia doesn't come a moment too early. It's a poppy, easy-to-melt tune where Black's vocals don't go entirely bad. While the song isn't very good, it has s one outstanding factor to it: It's the last track.
There's a digipak version with an extra CD containing three live tracks - or acting earwashers. Painted Skies and Queen of the Masquerade are always nice to hear, and Lost Reflection is all right too. If you're getting Astronomica, be sure to get a copy with these live recordings, or you'll be buying an album totally lacking great songs.
After so many years they tried to make a soup out of nails. The result isn't only thin and fleshless, but it does also hurt right off the spoon. Find the main dishes instead, where the crimson color come from the Painted Skies, not from a band desperately trying to cough up new music, while suffering from severe interior bleedings.