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... all joking aside, the seminal British death metal band is really the determining factor for whether or not you're going to like this one, which is the entire reason I cut 6% off this score.
The idea of crusty death metal seems entirely obvious, when you consider the origins of the genre. It spawned, alternately, from either the British hardcore scene and grindcore, or a genre that was a fusion of NWOBHM and hardcore punk. With crust having been the extreme evolution of hardcore-crossed metal, it would be logical for it to have some crossover with the extreme evolution of thrash metal. There's also some existing overlap within the ideas of the genres; down-tuning guitars are common to both, the riffing styles are similar, the context and meaning of slow and fast tempos are consistent... everything lines up for there to be more fusion between the two.
Yet, even with all of this, there isn't a gigantic mass of such bands out there. The slightly doom-tinged form of death metal has a single major participant-- the aforementioned Bolt Thrower-- and a small smattering of tinier bands, including Stormcrow themselves. All of these bands follow tightly under the wings of the W40K-loving originals, even without the Games Workshop license to plaster ceramite to their feathers.
So, even from the start, this album's nature can be discerned; it will sound a lot like Bolt Thrower. It does, in a good way: it provides a different perspective on extreme metal in the Bolt Thrower style, which means it has a slight bit of leeway to remain enjoyable for people who had minor complaints with the tempo and structure of any given BT album. The most extreme similarities are in guitar and bass tone; outside of the use of clean guitars for introductory moments (a near-nonexistent sight within Bolt Thrower's discography), the drop-tuned, filthy rumbling commonplace to albums like Realm of Chaos remain in place. The other major similarity is in tempo, specifically to mid-period Bolt Thrower. The balance between hardcore punk's myriad of more extreme genres and death metal is struck towards a medium-speed chug, which occasionally speeds up or slows down; for example, "Baleful Conception" contains a few lengthy doom/death segments.
The riffing is closer to crust punk than it is to traditional death metal, which may pose an issue for purists of the latter that is only somewhat mitigated by the low guitar tone. The bass follows in lock-step with the guitar, providing a satisfying bottom-end that supports the guiding music quite nicely, without ever drawing undue attention to itself in the mix. The drumming is impactful and successful in its place-- as a bastion of rhythm-- but otherwise unremarkable.
The vocals lack the direct impact of Karl Willetts, and the originality. They hover around a consistently low growling, with bits of Bolt Thrower mixed into a crust-death mutt. It fits the music well, and conveys brutality successfully, but-- like the drumming-- doesn't particularly stand out as far as death metal vocals go.
Finally, there are the related aspects; lyrics and production. This may seem like a low priority with which to engage something as important as lyrical content, but this is a harshly-growled album, with a style that focuses on intelligibility as a secondary objective. Deciphering the vocal lines rewards you with apocalyptic misanthropy, but that's about it; nothing special, except possibly a critical overuse of the word 'forced'. The production is successful; all of the instruments complement each other nicely, nothing overshadows anything else, the mix is balanced, and it keeps from grating on the ears with volume.
However, as generic as all of these elements may seem, they tie together incredibly nicely. This is a package of crusty, doom-marked death metal that succeeds in all that it sets out to accomplish, which is to release a quality death metal album. Each track lasts exactly as long as it needs to; the album clocks in at a bite-sized 28 minutes, giving you enough material to enjoy without ever overstaying its welcome. Enslaved in Darkness is a delightful release to round out the catalog of a death metal fan, but will not convince anti-fans of Bolt Thrower to join the crust-death train.
Recently, there has been a great deal of Bolt Thrower worship bands popping up. Bands like Sanctum, War Master, and Realm of Chaos have all been writing crusty death metal in the vein of early Bolt Thrower. Out of this filthy pile, Stormcrow are probably the most popular of the lot and with good reason too! Not only do they kneel at the altar of early Bolt Thrower and other UK crust associated bands, this crusty crew also take notes from Swedish death metal and the UK death/doom scenes. Unlike some bands that have trouble writing music that draws from various sources, Stormcrow make it seem way too easy.
Unfortunately, there is only five tracks and it's a real shame. It never grows stale and keeps the listener interested despite the music being extremely filthy and dark. It never slows down to the point of boredom but never speeds up fast enough to lose it's heaviness. Another charming trait to the music is that although it takes influences from various artists, it still maintains this “orthodox” feel, making sound it more timeless.
The opening track gives the listener a taste of the carnage that is found throughout the release. Starting off with an intro that could have easily found itself somewhere on the War Master album, until the band starts to pummel you with mid paced chugging complete with snarling bass. This catchy riff mutates into another riff that sounds like a beefed up riff from Heading For Eternal Darkness. Then the vocals come in. Did I mention how awesome the vocals are? They sound like the roars of a behemoth deep within a cave. One could say that the rest of the release follows a similar approach and they wouldn't be too far off the mark. “Anguished Existence” is a total head banger that's sure to cause neck injury one way or another. The third track, “Baneful Conception” starts off with a deceptively clean intro but soon reverts back to the destruction of everything in sight in typical Stormcrow fashion. “Willing to Forgive” is probably one of my favourites here because of the doom laden breakdown halfway through, followed by a return to the chugging madness with some trade back yelling. “New Messiah” starts up in the typical Stormcrow fashion before unleashing an infectious melodic riff that almost sounds like something Tragedy would have written.
One of the reasons I love this album so much is because the tone is ridiculously filthy. I mean, just listen to it, you would swear that your speakers would start building up with ... crust! The riffs are some of the best I heard in a while such as the ending of “Willing to Forgive” and the entirety of “Enslaved in Darkness”.This is not to say that the other elements of the music aren't up to par. The bass makes it presence well known throughout the album without being too high in the mix and when it gets the time to shine, it does not disappoint at all. The drumming drives the music at a great pace and I personally adore the snare sound. The vocals are a mix between a death grunt and a coarse shout. There also seems to be a small but noticeable delay or echo to vocals which works perfectly with the music. The almost organic production is perfect for this music, everything can be heard and nothing is too high or low in the mix. The lyrics are absolutely crushing and walk a fine line between total dirge and total disgust for humanity such as on the title track or “New Messiah”. The lyrics fit perfectly with the black and white artwork,
This album is dystopian in every sense of the word. If you like crushing, filthy and monolithic death metal with crusty overtones than you need to pick this up. For fans of early Bolt Thrower, Swedish death metal, the UK crust/grindcore scene and good music in general.