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Caught between yesterday and tomorrow. - 91%

hells_unicorn, October 4th, 2011

The middle of the 1990s was a rather turbulent time, particularly for the Scandinavian scene where a looming rivalry between the emerging black metal scene and the prominent Swedish death metal scene was about. It might be an overt platitude to say that this time period was musically standing somewhere between the past and the future since that is the textbook definition of the present, but with regards to the somewhat obscure Swedish outfit Crown Of Thorns (now known as The Crown), it is a testimony of a band standing between the evolving melodic character of albums such as Death’s contemporary work “Symbolic” and At The Gates’ “Slaughter Of The Soul”, and the older scenes of both Florida and Sweden. But whereas their somewhat better known sophomore effort “Eternal Death” can be somewhat linked to the Gothenburg sound, their first full length “The Burning” is a much further away from any such comparisons.

For the casual listener who might have encountered early death/thrash albums from the latter half of the 80s, be it German or American, this album has an all too familiar character to it. Recognizable samples of occult oriented episodes chime in either at the beginning or end of a few key songs that pulverize the ears like a ton of tempered steel, refined with a guitar sound that is remarkably similar to the Metallica-on-steroids sound of Chuck Schuldiner’s signature sound. There’s a bit more of a chaotic aesthetic than Death’s largely orthodox thrash influences, featuring the occasional blast beat and shimmering tremolo melody that carries occasional commonalities with Immortal’s “Battles In The North” oddly enough, though in a more precise manner. In fact, there would be a stronger case for comparing this outfit to a number of thrash infused 2nd wave black outfits than the Gothenburg scene that they seem to occasionally be lumped in with.

Song for song, this album carries its greatest strength in its brevity, avoiding epic song lengths and pummeling the listener with short bursts of systematic aggression. Between the thrashing nastiness of “Soulicide Demon-Might” and “Forever Heaven Gone”, and the almost as fast yet melodically infused “Neverending Dream” and “The Lord Of The Rings”, an intricate duality of manic rage and fatalistic depression emerges like a dragon’s wings beneath a flaming sky. The latter of the 4 songs referenced is a bit of a lyrical curiosity alongside what is mostly a dark poetic endeavor more in line with Morbid Angel than Tolkien, though musically it is yet another furious beast with guttural barks aplenty, as if the story is being told by a berserk Uruk-Hai. Johan Lindstrand’s vocals, in much the same sense as the music surrounding it, is in more of a classic death metal form, bearing more similarity to John Tardy and Karl Willetts’ deep throated growls than the somewhat higher pitched, quasi-blackened tendencies that began to chime in on subsequent releases.

There’s a good deal of amazing things going on within the confines of this album, to the point where a comparison to “Spiritual Healing” and “War Master” in terms of its quality wouldn’t be out of line, though it is a bit more modern sounding and occasionally consonant in its implicit harmonic tendencies. It is definitely something that can easily sate the appetite of most traditional death metal fans for something heavy and forbidding, though a subtle hint of melancholy darkness chimes in from time to time that could also snag some who were sympathetic to the earliest releases associated with the melodeath style. It is an album that is transitional in nature, though in a less overt fashion than that of “Eternal Death”, but it isn’t completely out of character for an older school death metal band, depending on one’s opinion of the legitimacy of Schuldiner’s transitional work from “Human” to “Symbolic” in comparison to older works. But above all else, this is a powerful album that realizes a fairly unique niche within the mid 90s era of death metal, an era where much of what passes for its various sub-genres were born.