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A Riddle, A Song - 95%

GuntherTheUndying, May 13th, 2015

“Riddle of Steel” is something extraordinary. Sons of Crom, this Swedish duo taking after the gods of epic heavy metal, is to this current age of metal what The Aeneid is to Fifty Shades of Grey. It is most applicable to relate Sons of Crom to a mixture of Atlantean Kodex’s niche of epic heavy metal and Bathory. The style of “Riddle of Steel” harkens back to an era when heroic metal was authentically heroic, told through valiant instrumentation capturing the triumph of victory and tasting the sorrow of lonesomeness. Most important, “Riddle of Steel” is made a masterpiece by the hands that have crafted it with unseen precision and care, not the glamorous tools and tricks that could have been at Sons of Crom’s disposal.

Bands like Manilla Road, Bathory, and Atlantean Kodex capture a scaling, triumphant view of heavy metal and its possibilities. Sons of Crom is easily assimilated among these groups because they translate a semblance that, while avoiding excessive amounts of cheese or comical explosions à la Manowar, manages to convey unparalleled emotional intensity. Calling Sons of Crom an epic heavy/doom metal band is correct, but only the tip of the creative iceberg. Musically, stout and robust riffs propel forward on driving rhythms which take on a variety of forms. “Call of the Black Mountain” makes harsh vocals and driving riffs its foundation, conjuring flares of classic Bathory influence; whereas “Golden Gates” and “Victory” lean on acoustic parts and serene melodies to express glory, misery, and the thin line between.

Every song is uniquely crafted and exceptional in its own way. The folk vibe stitched to the hefty guitar work and energetic rhythms of “Cimmerian Dance” dangles the instrumental between the determined might of heavy metal and the idiosyncratic approach of truly exceptional songwriters who are among the finest creative metal minds on the planet. “Myrkrarfar” and “Master of Shadows” are stuffed with superb melodies and excellent lead guitar parts, feats which never dwindle or spoil. “Seven Spells (The Riddle of Steel),” just a piano instrumental to end the album, is full of emotion and the wonderful melancholy Sons of Crom integrates into the album so naturally.

The vocals, untouched by studio effects, capture the power of Sons of Crom’s atmosphere while matching the organic sound quality and the extraordinary standard of “Riddle of Steel.” Although comparing the group to Bathory or other similar projects is justifiable, Sons of Crom is in a league of its own, sounding unique and tremendous throughout this journey of epic heavy metal glory. This is not a part of today’s overproduced, gaudy nonsense masquerading as epic metal—Wintersun fans need not apply. “Riddle of Steel” is a masterpiece of a record, and the best album of 2014 that you have yet to hear.

This review was written for:

Layered like Damascene - 95%

naverhtrad, January 9th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Debemur Morti Productions (Digipak)

好,大業!We won again. That is good. Now tell me, what is best in life?

The open steppe, a fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair?


To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women, is of course the correct answer. But a close second would be to hear the Sons of Crom singing about the same.

Sons of Crom are one of the most promising new bands I’ve heard in some time, and each description of their music, in approaching greater accuracy, does them less justice with each addition. Riddle of Steel is a breathtaking epic-heavy-doom-progressive-Viking-black-folk album – and that makes it sound like a total mess, blending way too many elements at once to be effective. But this album is very much not. The Eye of the Serpent here displayed by this Finnish-Swedish duo sparkles with many facets, each brilliant to behold, and each melancholically fleeting. The entire album bristles with both triumph and tragedy, with the wisdom of long-buried ages past, with the glimmering blood of heroes scattered like rubies across the wild frozen hills, and it leaps from one peak to the next with a grace forged in fire.

If I speak in too Howardian an idiom in describing this album, that should only bespeak the might and prowess with which it strikes at its own themes. Normally the pulp-fictional subject matter and inspiration would make the resulting metal album either cheesy or painfully self-aware, but the Sons of Crom manage to avoid both extremes on what sounds like sheer conviction alone. Perhaps Conan never prayed to Crom but once, but something like what drove him to his deeds is driving this album as well. It is notoriously difficult to deliver something that plumbs the emotional depths of misery and the heights of berserker ecstasy with anything resembling consistency, yet that is precisely what Riddle of Steel does.

As I said before, one can hear many different strains and influences distinctly on this album, though they are forged in many layers like the finest Damascene, resulting in patterns which render the final product unique. So, yes, you can practically taste the influence of all three of Bathory, Solstice and Atlantean Kodex in equal measure on this album, the progressive, doom and black / pagan elements alternating with each other in an elemental triskelion fashion. But they are neither held completely separate nor muddled together haphazardly. To give just a couple of examples, the black-metal vocal and guitar stylings of ‘Myrkrarfar’ and ‘Call of the Black Mountain’ are placed at the service of a driving, doomy rhythm; whereas on the masterful opus ‘Victory’ the black-metal elements take a back seat to the clean guitar tones, the epic song structure and the slow, mournful vocals, but still make themselves felt in the atmosphere. And what makes ‘Victory’ epic rather than merely an above-average twelve-minute doom track is its atmosphere.

And then there’s the ‘Cimmerian Dance’.

Quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve heard ‘party music’ this awesome performed by any band in recent times in any of the genres amongst which the Sons of Crom place themselves – at any rate, not since Moonsorrow’s ‘Pakanajuhla’ on Suden uni. As uplifting and catchy as any Manowar or Hammerfall number without losing any of the underlying epic-doom weight and heft, it sets off on one deceptively simple downtuned arena-rock hook and just coasts through, letting each of the various elemental triskelion elements play off it in turn: the synths providing the atmosphere just long enough to draw you in, before seguing into an uptempo folksy passage punctuated by an obligatory ‘hey!’, at which point the guitar solo just drives the point home. But even as the instrumentation fades away and trails off into a misty melancholy, ‘Cimmerian Dance’ never loses its focus, and retains its force right down to the last synth trill.

Riddle of Steel comes highly recommended for anyone who loves Bathory, Moonsorrow, Solstice, Atlantean Kodex, Slough Feg, Manilla Road or, to be honest, any traditional heavy metal band with heart and soul and conviction. After all, hey, do you want to live forever?

19 / 20

Utterly brilliant amalgamation of styles - 98%

Jophelerx, December 2nd, 2014

It's always refreshing to me when a band can't be put solidly into one camp or another, stylistically; not clear-cut bands are a bad thing by any means, but sometimes I like to hear something different. Good bands that easily fall into a single genre are wise for knowing their strengths, as providing something new that's also good can be very difficult, and deciding your proportion of stylistic influences just right is often immensely challenging. However, when it really works, you get something awesome like Sons of Crom's Riddle of Steel. The name alone should be a clue of the band's good taste if you like Robert E. Howard (as you should). Heavy/doom is a proficient descriptor of the band's style, I suppose, but the influences are really all over the map. At different times I hear Bathory, Omen, Mercyful Fate, perhaps even Running Wild at times. Yet it's seamless and cohesive enough that I'd never call even a single song "Bathory worship" or "Mercyful fate worship"; to call them derivative of even their largest influence, which seems likely to be Bathory, would be way off the fucking mark. These guys play their own style, and it's awesome.

The lead vocalist (not sure which band member it is, since both are listed as vocalists) is a goddamn machine, with an exceptionally versatile delivery ranging from Quorthon-esque yells to soothing deep cleans and even some falsetto lines. He handles all of it with grace, always sounding perfect and transitioning without a problem. The songwriting is equally versatile; you've got dark, occult numbers like "Myrkrarfar," galloping epics like "Master of Shadows," and huge, melodious ballads like "Golden Gates." This album truly transcends genres and styles, proving its utmost songwriting prowess as easily as the lead singer proves his. The timing is perfect, the production is perfect, the songwriting is perfect...I'm just astounded to hear something like this especially from such a young band; I can think of only two other debut albums to achieve such a thing so perfectly, and those are Slauter Xstroyes' Winter Kill and Psychotic Waltz's A Social Grace, both of which are masterpieces in their own right.

Strewn throughout are some black and death metal influences as well, albeit more briefly and sometimes more subtle ("Call of the Black Mountain" has perhaps the most overt passage). I'd have trouble naming specific bands since I'm not terribly knowledgeable on extreme metal, but the vocalist does some pretty awesome black metal-esque shrieks and there is some definite death metal influence in some of the riffs. I don't even know what genre to call the instrumental "Cimmerian Dance" with its lead violin and flute and riffs that are sort of "heavy metal with some prog influence and maybe some doom as well," but it's fucking brilliant. Blows every folk metal band I've ever heard away by a mile, and there aren't even any vocals! The other instrumental, "Seven Spells," is a beautiful, moving piano piece, seemingly out of place in the album but still fantastic.

"Victory" is pretty clearly the centerpiece of the album, clocking in at over twelve minutes. It's a huge, sprawling doom number with a pervasive sense of urgency and lurking despair that builds throughout its progression, enveloping the listener in an utterly awesome and terrifying world. The closest comparison I can make is to Bathory's "Blood Fire Death" (song), but with a lot more doom, and somehow, yes, even more epic! This song just utterly destroys everything else in its path, quite possibly reaching top 10 metal songs I've ever heard in my life (and I don't say that lightly). Overall, the only complaints I can really make about this album is that sometimes the songwriting seems *too* varied, like the songs don't have enough to do with each other and don't make the album as a whole worth listening to from beginning to end, but that's hardly much of a complaint. With their debut album, Sons of Crom mark themselves metal gods, and I eagerly await their next release! I don't care what you're a fan of; if you're reading this and you're not an utter fucktard, go get this NOW!!!