Review: The Crown – Cobra Speed Venom
Am I hella psyched about this? Could be.
As much as I’d like to play it cool and be all detached and stuff, I just can’t with this one. As mentioned in the recent interview with The Crown, I’ve been quite a fan for about fifteen years now. As was also mentioned, it was by no means a safe bet that this album would be good. Personnel changes have generally not benefited the band’s sound in the past; 2010’s Doomsday King flatlined for most of its running time, and even singer Johan Lindstrand’s return did not yield the results many fans desired on Death Is Not Dead. Neither album was without flashes of former glory, but overall, they had me rather apprehensive, and that led to ouright rejection upon first hearing a preview from this new record. I guess my admiration for The Crown’s earlier output had me shielding myself against another potential blow. When I eventually heard the full song, however, I let my guard down quite a bit, since “Iron Crown” sounded downright excellent. Today, I’m ridiculously glad to tell you that that was not a fluke. This album is pretty much what I wanted from The Crown, and what’s more, it actually sounds like it’s what they wanted, too. Let’s get into it.
Opener “Destroyed By Madness” starts off with a foreboding cello intro, the melody of which is then taken up by the guitars. Ere long, an unceremonious transition throws everything into full gear, and the band blasts and shreds away like there’s no tomorrow. So far, so good; this is the level of aggression I was hoping for. However, if you like Deathrace King, Crowned In Terror, and Possessed 13 as much as I do, you’re probably not in it for sheer aggression alone. What always elevated The Crown above similar acts is the certain rock-and-roll-ish joie de vivre that they injected many of their songs with. Just listen to “Rebel Angel” or “Kill ‘Em All” for some good examples of that. These are the moments I was holding out for and had sorely missed on the last two outings, so what happens around the two-minute mark of “Destroyed By Madness” had me elated. “This is the point of no return / This is the hell where I belong,” the pre-chorus goes, and it’s not hard to hear that as a statement loudly declaring “we’re back and here to stay.” As if to enhance the sentiment, the heartily bellowed “HA!” (seriously, how great are expletives in metal?) sends the guitars into just the kind of fun frenzy that I was talking about, not afraid to draw from a higher register as they flash across the fretboard. It feels like a moment of coming home, like the band embracing their trademark sound, and I simply love it. Similar moments follow later in the song: one is the guitar lick accompanying the transition from the bridge back to a chorus, and one is the unexpected turn it takes at the end, where they suddenly swap to a completely new riff, just as a little end tag. This part could easily have come from any of my favourite Crown albums, and I can’t help but grin.
That’s quite a paragraph only talking about one song, but it’s important because it establishes a key aspect of the album and answers a question that I think many fans were asking themselves. It’s kinda the main thing I wanted to get across in this review. To put it shortly: Yes, the spirit of The Crown is present on this record. It’s sprinkled all throughout in little doses, and it really comes to the fore in songs like “Necrohammer”, the frantic “Rise In Blood”, and “Iron Crown”. In the case of the latter, I can thankfully let the song do the talking.
The Crown sound like they’re having fun, and it’s infectious. And that’s a big part of what this band has always been about for me. So, with my main point out of the way, what else is noteworthy? Third song “In The Name Of Death” features lyrics that go “Come on, feel the noise” in the chorus, and “Master! Master!” in the bridge part. Might be a coincidence, but it might as well be a tip of the hat. Slade and Metallica, finally united… And speaking of Metallica, how about that new drummer? No, that segue did not come out of thin air; on the last album, guitarist Marko Tervonen filled in on the drums, and in interviews, his style was compared to that of Lars Ulrich. Now that’s a back-handed compliment if ever I heard one. Kudos for being able to jump in at all, but he definitely had some big-ass shoes to fill after original drummer Janne Saarenpää left. The band having a full-time drummer again definitely makes itself felt throughout the record. Even if Henrik Axelsson doesn’t have quite as distinctive a style, I wouldn’t necessarily expect that from someone who’s newly joined a long-running lineup, and he’s more than capable of delivering the controlled fury that the music thrives on. Of course, fury isn’t everything. Songs like “World Below” and “Cold Is The Grave” have shown that The Crown is absolutely able to dish out a slow jam now and then, and third single “We Avenge!” proves it yet again.
As much of a sucker as I am for fast music, this here might be one of my favourite songs. Together with the instrumental “Where My Grave Shall Stand”, it provides a well-executed counterpoint to the otherwise highly energetic songs. That instrumental also makes for a calm, melancholic, quiet-before-the-storm moment before the grand finale, “The Sign Of The Scythe”. And how nice it is to be able to say that there’s a grand finale! A sprawling 7-minute song in the vein of “Killing Star” or “Death By My Side” – again, The Crown hearken back to the good times. All in all, then, they’re ticking a lot of boxes, but it never feels like they’re just ticking boxes, you know what I mean? It’s not like they went “okay, what does a Crown album need?” and then just did it by rote. It genuinely feels like they rediscovered what it was that made them great, and in the process, weren’t afraid to embrace new things, as well. As Magnus Olsfelt said in the interview, it’s not a nostalgic record. A song like “World War Machine” isn’t something I’ve ever heard from them before, yet it manages not to feel out of place, either. Likewise, the whole album strikes a balance between passionately hitting familiar notes and advancing the band’s sound. Is it just as ruthless a neck breaker as my favourite albums were? Probably not, but it’s damn close, and considering that a) it’s been a good fifteen years, b) pretty much nobody (including me) had expected anything anything this good, and c) I’m looking back through heavily nostalgia-tinted glasses, I think a wee bit of slack can be cut here. Even if I can’t say for sure that I will come back to this for years and years to come, my fears that The Crown had grown dull are definitely assuaged. Now, I realise some of this my sound a bit apologetic, and if I’m being perfectly honest, the rating may have been a lower one if this was any other band. As it is, though, Cobra Speed Venom earns a
4 out of 5 Flaming Toilets
That’s about as soberly as I can view this right now. Get it from Metal Blade in all sorts of physical formats (including a super swag limited box set) as well as on every usual and not-so-usual digital platform, including, of course, the one.