Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Stellar Halo
02. Rule The Show
03. A World Beyond Reach
04. If You Dare
05. My Prison
06. The Devil's Drug
07. Mirage
08. To The Other Side

Reminiscent of a time when melodic death metal was striding purposefully into more progressive waters, CROWNSHIFT are a new force from a reliable source. All noted contributors to Finland's remorseless metal scene, this meeting of like minds arrives with little fanfare, and a low-key, self-titled and "let the music speak for itself" vibe that gives little away before the first song kicks in.

In some ways, the identities of those involved do give a clue or two to where this album sits musically. Guitarist Daniel Freyberg will be known to many as a former member of both CHILDREN OF BODOM and BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT; drummer Heikki Saari is familiar from FINNTROLL; singer Tommy Tuovinen, from groove merchants MY GRAIN; and bassist Jukka Koskinen is a current member of NIGHTWISH and WINTERSUN. There are no dancing trolls on "Crownshift", which is probably for the best, but virtuoso musicianship, adventurous song structures and atmospheric ingenuity are all present and correct.

Ageing readers may recall bands like Sweden's GARDENIAN (check out their 1999 masterpiece "Soulburner", I urge you) or Denmark's MERCENARY: outliers in an often-unimaginative scene, with ambitions beyond mimicking IN FLAMES and hoping for the best. CROWNSHIFT are firmly in that vein, and while there are more than enough straightforward and catchy riffs to satisfy all our classic melo-death needs, these songs are far too restless and intense to be generic. Instead, "Crownshift" is hell-bent on slamming disparate metal strands together, using the melo-death template only as a launchpad for grander, more richly melodic things.

No time is wasted luring people in with something familiar. "Stellar Halo" is a wild and expansive opener, which lays bare the breadth of CROWNSHIFT's vision. From glossy, melodic hooks and sumptuous vocal harmonies to mutant twists and brutal turns that spin everything on its head, it could easily have been a confused mess. But with echoes of everything from SOILWORK's "Natural Born Chaos" and DEVIN TOWNSEND's "Physicist", to the windswept AOR gloom of EVERGREY, all within five-and-a-half breathless minutes, it feels clever and classy, heartfelt and substantial. It isn't a false dawn, either: CROWNSHIFT hit that same giddy peak several times during these 40, pristine-sounding minutes. "Rule The Show" and "World Beyond Reach" are straight-ahead anthems, with soaring choruses and radio-friendly melodies, but with inspired short cuts through everything from brutish math-metal to futuristic psychedelia.

Underneath it all, the muscular crunch of 21st century melo-death powers on. "If You Dare" offers a perfect compromise between AT THE GATES devilry and KILLSWITCH schmaltz; a dash of OMNIUM GATHERUM-style cinematic opulence thrown in for the hell of it, and riffs that hammer menacingly in a destructive staccato. Tuovinen's versatility comes to the fore, as he skillfully negotiates CROWNSHIFT's heaviest sensibilities, and glides majestically through another grandiose, uplifting chorus melody. Everything sounds huge, as it should. On the downbeat "My Prison", the Finns set complexity aside, and go straight for the emotional jugular, unashamed debts to PARADISE LOST and AMORPHIS on full display. And maybe even DEF LEPPARD and BILLY IDOL. Either way, it's fucking great.

"The Devil's Drug" brings things back to a more brutal equilibrium, snapping between the kind of punishing, desolate riffs that CHIMAIRA built their reputation on, and vast, glistening swathes of sci-fi pomp and propulsion. Freyberg's brief but brilliant solo is a proper jaw-dropper. In spine-tingling contrast, "Mirage" is a synth-adorned, folk metal instrumental with tear-jerking potential and an enveloping sense of frozen time and endless space. Closing epic "To The Other Side" hurls all of the above into ten minutes of dark, prog metal imperiousness of a kind that you might reasonably expect from a band on their third or fourth album, but not their first. CROWNSHIFT may make even more impressive records than this in the future — on this evidence, it seems absurd to doubt it — but this is one hell of a good start.

Author: Dom Lawson
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