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Northern Crown > In a Pallid Shadow > Reviews
Northern Crown - In a Pallid Shadow

It's The Crown Of The Northern - 80%

nightbreaker33, November 5th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, Digital, Independent

"Picture Deep Purple if they had a more modern sound that contained a variety of progressive elements." That was the description given to me by the promoter who allowed me to experience the latest full-length album titled In A Pallid Shadow from the relatively new doom metallers, Northern Crown. And to tell you the truth, his words certainly don't miss the mark.

In A Pallid Shadow might at first seem not that extensive with a tracklist of only five songs. But I assure you, the length of the album is enough to keep you busy. There are, without a doubt, a lot of strong aspects to be found here. One of them is the vocals. Frank's voice is very reminiscent of Ian Parry of Elegy fame, although his singing (which never runs out of breath here) is utilized in a lower range.

Contrarily, you could say he sounds less baritone than Ayreon's Robert Soeterboek. I also like the album's non-metal elements such as the synthesizer solos, which can be heard on the first and final tracks that remind me of good old Playstation 2 music arranged for games by talented Capcom composers.

The classic 70's Hammond organ sound is in almost all of the songs and most of the times sets an epic atmosphere (well worthy for Northern Crown to label themselves as epic doom) such as the semi-chorus of "Leprosarium" where the lyrics "Is this what you wanna be" are sung. It should be noted that this and the other tracks also contain very original guitar leads that only a virtuoso such as John Petrucci would ever come up with.

Lyrically, the band tackles very serious topics such as discrimination and fighting for your right to live, accepting your weaknesses along the way. Also, the band members seem educated enough to write lyrics that reference some very sophisticated novels. So don't expect the singer to talk about less important subjects such as the occult or drug abuse, topics commonly discussed in the doom metal genre (cough cough Witchfinder General).

There is no arguing, though, that the album does have its disadvantages. The guitar tone is sometimes produced with a very muddy tone to the point where I can barely hear the riffs. The fuss made by the other instruments really doesn't help that much. But, at least I can sort of understand what the riffs sound like, because the Hammond organ basically plays the same chords as the guitar. In addition, I noticed that some riffs sound similar regarding different songs on the same album. However, they're not completely recycled and are utilized and arranged uniquely so each song can be distinguished from the other.

Ending this review, In A Pallid Shadow, is an album that requires a lot of attention and "play the whole album again" clicks from the listener for him to appreciate the compositions. And I remark, In A Pallid Shadow should not be played as background music, especially for people who are not familiar with the trippy, experimental, progressive rock elements and of course for those who don't dig slow and minorish doom metal.

For fans of Count Raven, Candlemass


Originally written for Indy Metal Vault (R.I.P) on May 2020.

Dragging riff fans from the comfort zone - 82%

gasmask_colostomy, July 6th, 2020

Seeing line-up photos of bands where all the members are holding guitars can easily give the wrong impression. For starters, one will probably assume that the group has no drummer, a situation solved either by a drum machine or a soulless studio fill-in job. What’s more, being pictured holding your instrument of choice strongly hints at the portion of your life it takes up, which would in turn suggest music full of wanky guitar solos and six-string self-indulgence. In the case of Northern Crown, the trio of core members are ably assisted by Dan Konopka laying down a solid drumming performance, while surprisingly little noodling appears during the 39 minutes of In a Pallid Shadow.

For the most part, doom metal gets spliced with varying degrees of other genres, resulting in an album as varied and nuanced as it is focused and brief. Though '8 Hours' hints back to the early days of Northern Crown as disciples of Candlemass, the 5 long songs on display each forms a discrete take on traditional doom and hard rock sounds. Some majestically trudging riffs nod to the Swedish masters of epic doom in their decade with Robert Lowe, gaining a vintage edge from organ sounds that billow round the heaviness, displaying more emotions than mere misery. As '8 Hours' moves away from its pensive intro and melodic verses, leads hopefully interject, either swooping forwards on the song’s momentum or stalling thoughtfully in blissful clean passages. Frank Serafine modulates his voice in the same manner, rarely reaching for the howling climaxes of Solitude Aeturnus or Crypt Sermon, but settling back onto the strings and keys in more relaxed style.

The rather soft mix and relaxed nature of the performances make the album’s curveball much easier to stomach. Marginally the shortest cut at 6 minutes, 'A Vivid Monochrome' initially rests at low ebb, with sparse piano and intimate vocals holding attention before the rest of the band emerge gradually, finishing the piece by rising into a satisfyingly restrained guitar lead. More than just a transfer in technique, 'A Vivid Monochrome' also manages to highlight excellent lyrics, in this case musing on the reality of existence via colour metaphors. In an entirely different capacity, 'Observing' sidesteps the preconceptions encouraged by earlier rocking tracks, blanketing the listener with oppressive guitar shades halfway through, the vocals growing disturbingly intense as the lyrics describe the sensation of freezing while under the influence of a strangely familiar figure. Despite these songs having starkly different themes and musical approaches, Northern Crown pull both off with believable emotion and – thanks to the lenient production – no jarring transitions.

Of course, the success with which In a Pallid Dream varies its approach is to be applauded, though the meat and bones of the album rarely excels. It would be difficult to call this an atmospheric album, especially with the hooky nature of the mid-paced 'Leprosarium', but individual riffs stand out only slightly and choruses prove less memorable after the experience than during. In part, the lack of bite to the guitars and drums moves the goalposts from doom metal to progressive territory, a trait encouraged by plentiful organ, piano, synth, and violin backing even during heavier moments. All these elements blend together into a watercolour effect during 'The Last Snowfall', which can be described as “mature” in all the best and worst ways – a wonderful balanced mix of sounds without much specific standing out. As such, In a Pallid Dream is a grower and unfolds better as a whole listened to in quiet conditions.

If Northern Crown end up pigeonholed as doom metal, the Floridian trio should do a lot of good for the genre, dragging riff fans out of their comfort zones and proving that shrieking singers don’t always have everything you need. The additional instruments also do a treat in terms of shaking things up, more or less taking the role usually given to epic guitars. Then again, In a Pallid Shadow might perform just as well in progressive circles, the balance of dissonant instrumentation and concordant performances finely tuned for certain moody fans of Rush and Ayreon. Naturally, music finds its own audience, so here’s to hoping that Northern Crown’s triple guitar threat doesn’t get mistaken for a shred project!

Originally written for The Metal Observer -