CROWN OF MADNESS – Elemental Binding EP

Canadian duo Crown of Madness released their debut EP in March 2022, and for those paying close attention to the metal underground, it introduced a band with an interesting approach to an extreme sound. Their harsh combination of old school death metal and a sheet of black metal coldness would be enough to please a lot of genre fans, but occasional nods to goth and doom lent their more brutal aspects a little balance via some strangely mournful riffs.

Eleven months on, ‘Elemental Binding’ brings more of the same, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The band’s sound is still challenging – that can’t be denied – but their willingness to mash a death metal heart into other influences continues to make Crown of Madness more interesting than most.

‘Immortal Eyes’ opens with a brilliantly atmospheric intro where a haunting drone segues into a sledgehammer riff. The guitar tones are amazing; there’s a really solid edge to the production that brings out a real weight in the slower notes, and this is very much confirmed for what passes as a chorus when mid tempo chugging intercuts the typical pneumatics. Genre fans who are able to keep a closer ear will also be able to pick out a cold and almost industrial tone elsewhere when a little blackgaze creeps into another oppressive riff or two, but in the main, this number works some solid death metal where a lot of the genre’s established elements rise to the fore with a real ease. As is often the case when it comes to death oriented stuff, the drums are relentless at times, but there are various flourishes within Connor Gordon’s playing to suggest they have greater interest than just recycling the foundations of old Suffocation and Bathory records, and although Sunshine Schneider’s vocals retain so much of the harshness of typical death metal, those too occasionally hint at something a little broader.

‘A Wrenching Nostalgia’ follows suit in a similar way, but is actually even stronger, as those black metal guitar tones are far more in evidence. Throughout the track, their cold stance weaves in an out of a guttural voice, creating an intense contrast, and there are even flickers of a heavy post-metal influence challenging the usual pneumatics for dominance. For those able to make it past the vocal, the shrill guitars layer the music with strange ethereal feel that would have no place on a bog standard death metal release, and even more than before, there’s a sense that this duo are able to take extreme metal somewhere new. For all of that teasing, however, the end of the track stokes up the old school death metal drums about three fold, creating something a little more traditional. This is good, but by no means Crown at their best, and by the time you reach a brief moment of silence, there’s a feeling that things might be about to take a heavier turn.

…And in some ways, ‘Roots, Limbs & Sky’ does introduce a few heavier riffs with a proper, crushing bottom end that wasn’t that present before, but the track’s experimenting with bendy post-metal sounds actually results in the EP’s most accessible number. Following another round of death metal rooted insanity, the listener is thrown into a world where Lamb of God’s early heaviness collides with the wilfulness of Cardiacs and the instrumental break eventually descends into a chaotic prog metal swamp. In this instance, the instrumentation and arrangement skills are superb and the patience and perseverance required to get through the death metal bits pays off massively. Finally, there’s a little more reverting to type on the closing ‘Vile Sun’ since the death metal influences reign. There are a couple of interesting turns within the arrangement, of course – namely, a sharp lead guitar threatening more post-metal oddity before slinking back into the noise, and a hard rhythm guitar working some black metal tones admirably – but it’s a big comedown after the previous track, which more than proved that extreme metal is more than able to surprise when left in capable hands.

For those who are always keen to venture into the extreme metal wilderness looking for entertainment, this should more than hit the mark. The performances are brutal enough for the death metal diehards, and abrasive enough for fans of other challenging metal to at least remain curious; in the case of ‘Roots, Limbs & Sky’, there’s a fascinating insight into a duo who are clearly unafraid to experiment. Naturally, this EP isn’t likely to attract the more casual metal fan – it’s far too rooted in classic death sounds for that – but the material has an unexpectedly epic feel considering three of the four tracks clock in at under four minutes, and what it does, it does very well indeed.

January 2023