The name Martin Kronlund will be familiar to many melodic rock fans. Between 2010 and 2015, the Swedish guitarist almost seemed omnipresent. Throughout that time, he was a member of Lover Under Cover, Salute and the reformed White Wolf. He was also a guest on the Ged Rylands all-star project Rage of Angels. In addition, he provided technical/production duties on albums by Departure, Ilium, M.ILL.ION, Saracen and Elevener. For a time it was hard to get away from the bugger.
In 2014, he produced a rather overlooked album by Skyscraper, a short-lived project featuring legendary guitarist Bruce Gaitsch, Gypsy Rose/White Wolf drummer Imre Daun and Shy vocalist Lee Small. This new project for 2023 reunites Kronland and Small (on guitar and vocal duties, respectively) and also enlists the talents of Glenn Hughes drummer Pontus Engborg, which gives Kings Crown a solid core. As you might expect for a collaboration between those musicians, this band isn’t quite as AOR/melodic rock based as some of Martin’s past associations. Instead, the Anglo-Swedish act ventures further into the waters of slightly bombastic classic rock, often making the best of a harder edged sound.
Released ahead of the album as a digital single, ‘Still Alive’ gives a really good indication of what to expect from the rest of the record. It thunders in with a really chunky guitar riff, introducing Kronlund’s heavier tones really effectively. The rest of the band don’t slouch on this track, either. There’s superb accompaniment from an old style organ, played by Anders Skoog – immediately channelling his inner Don Airey – and drummer Pontus cuts through the groove with a pleasingly dense drum sound. The groove laden, 70s inflected riffs will be bread and butter for him, having spent time playing alongside Glenn Hughes, and it isn’t actually long before this number actually starts to sound like something heavily indebted to the voice of rock’s ‘Addiction’ and ‘Songs In The Key of Rock’ albums, with Small honing a decent Hughes impersonation to suit. The music is more impressive than the lyric, but overall, on this number, Kings Crown show all the makings of a retro hard rock band with a big appeal.
With a bigger concession to melody, the slower ‘Standing On My Own’ makes a bigger feature of the keys, set against a mid tempo rhythm section. The heart of the track sounds like a homage to Whitesnake circa 1990, but with much better vocals. With a more spacious arrangement at his disposal, Small delivers plenty of long, soulful notes on a very tuneful verse, before switching to a full wail on a retro AOR chorus. The transition is effortless, and although the higher notes sometimes err on the side of being a little too loud, there’s no doubt that he’s a man who’s still in possession of an impressive vocal range. Equally good, but moving back into rockier sounds, ‘Stranger’ shamelessly borrows from both Deep Purple circa ‘House of Blue Light’ and the full throttle rockers on Rainbow’s ‘Straight Between The Eyes’, but in fairness, Kings Crown recycle those influences with a huge amount of love. As before, it’s occasionally hard to tear your ears away from a top-flight Lee Small wail, but Kronlund plays up a storm throughout. He sounds especially good during his featured solo, when playing longer, vibrato filled notes – even though his efforts appear half buried in the mix by an unapologetically loud drum sound – and during the number’s climax when he pulls out some huge wah-wahed notes. The influences here might well be glaringly obvious, but the overall vibe is strong – very much the sound of a band having a great time.
‘It’s Too Late’, meanwhile, opens with a pleasingly 80s phased effect, and then wastes no time in working a great bluesy riff to power a heavy-ish slab of classic rock that falls squarely between late 80s Whitesnake and 90s Glenn Hughes. The marriage of vocal and guitar is easily the record’s most perfect, since Small dials everything back in favour of a smoother, more soulful approach, and Kronland cranks everything a little louder, allowing for some perfectly played dirty tones. In terms of bringing a classic rock past into 2023, you’ll find few examples as good as this. ‘Servant’, by contrast, tries a little too hard to impress. Pontus delivers a huge Bonham-esque drum part, whilst the main melody conveys the bombast of tunes like Rainbow’s ‘Stargazer’, but with little of the charm. Nevertheless, looking more closely at what we have here, there are some decent harmony vocals, another round of pompy keys and Bas Berra Holmgren adds a solid bottom end via his bass. With the musicians clearly working so hard to create something big, it’s a shame they forgot to write a decent hook to go with the massive riff. Few albums are perfect, of course, and this is one of ‘Closer To The Truth’s only real misfires.
By fading in with a phased drum sound and a big bass sound, ‘Don’t Hide’ immediately grabs the listener’s attention. It’s one of the times when Holmgren’s particularly muscular tone is at the forefront of the already big Kings Crown sound, and he uses it brilliantly to power a great rhythm against a semi-moody organ. The bombastic feel of the track makes it feel a little different – there’s more of a Swedish influence cutting through the classic rock sound – and the band appear to wander into something that would be better suited to Goran Edman circa 1990 or a late 80s Mark Boals. Nevertheless, it’s a great workout for all concerned, showing how well they can recycle something less Purple tinged, whilst the title cut teases with more guitar effects, and soon sets up a strong AOR inflected number where Small gets to curl his huge pipes around something a little shinier. The old fashioned keyboard heard against a harmony drenched chorus draws from the musical pool of Sweden’s Snakes In Paradise, and by doing so finds the band in a comfort zone, but at the same time, they show how this old style rock has an unlimited shelf life when played well.
Assuming you’re not too worn out by Kings Crown’s best high octane workouts, ‘Down Below’ is also worth checking out. The opening bars set up a swaggering groove where stabbed organ notes dart between a hard edged rhythm, leading into a very 80s sounding hard rocker, again, much like one of Whitesnake’s edgier efforts. The bulk of the track doesn’t waver far from Kings Crown’s typical stock, but some well placed chorus harmonies and a very confident pre-chorus go a long way to making it one of the album’s highlights. With ‘I Will Remember’ returning to the heavier Whitesnake sound and providing Kronlund with a fine platform for a couple of great bursts of lead guitar, ‘Stay The Night’ sounding even more like an old Glenn Hughes tune than ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘Darkest of Days’ fusing the Whitesnake heart with the more melodic elements of Snakes In Paradise, the remainder of the album never strays too far from its roots, but it’s fair to say that ‘Closer To The Truth’ is a disc that’s pretty much filler free.
For what it is, ‘Closer To The Truth’ is solid rock fare. A little old fashioned, maybe – okay, very old fashioned at times – but the material is always tightly played, and delivered with conviction. Small’s louder vocal style won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but there’s no doubt he’s truly committed, and a man who really feels the material, whilst Kronlund’s guitar work is consistently good, even if his influences can seem obvious. In short, if you’re in the market for something that falls squarely between a heavier Whitesnake and a more sedate Burning Rain, then Kings Crown should more than satisfy. It’s best not to expect anything that’s particularly ground breaking, obviously, but in terms of passionately played hard rock, there are far, far worse ways to spend forty five minutes.