Witnessing the Fallposted on 1/2011 By:
Jay: “Olaf, metal!”
<Olaf grimaces, making face of metal>
Jay: “That’s his fucking metal face.”
Hipsters and “yeah bro, metal is cool”-types the world over love that scene. Why? Because fake Russian dudes are funny; because the movie is in black and white; because assholes love Kevin Smith hackery. But mostly because that scene lowers heavy metal to its cheapest thrills without a note of music (“Berserker” doesn’t count). Truth is, the horns, the headbang, and the metal face are just facets of some funny subculture to those on the outside, facets that most people either don’t get or just don’t care to get.
But we get it, oh yes. We know what it is like to have our seemingly mild-mannered lives instantly warped by our crazy-eyed inner beasts. Perhaps you were a smiling and dutiful family member at a reunion in the park, only to have a King Diamond bomb dropped on you by some speeding Thunderbird, resulting in your glaring at grandma like a rabid Don Rickles. Or howsabout sitting in your office, innocently listening to brutal death metal on your iPod, only minimally interacting with the chaos hitting your eardrums when your boss passes and gives you that look. This shit is involuntary, we can’t help it. A doctor hits your knee with a hammer, your leg kicks. Matt Pike slams your fucking skull with a “Frost Hammer,” your neck switches to rapid fire. It just happens.
To readers who can comprehend all of that, meet France’s incomparable warriors of blackened death metal, Svart Crown. They too burn that inner fire that we all keep alive. They understand it in a way only bands like Weapon and Inquisition have been able to express in the last 12 months. Sophomore full-length Witnessing The Fall is primed to give you the biggest case of metal face you’ve had since the first time you cranked Phoenix Rising, Deathrace King, or Tara, only to subsequently eviscerate said visage in a maelstrom of riffs and blasts.
Witnessing The Fall brings the type of prime-grade metal-as-fuckery that countless bands attempt but few achieve, mostly because they don’t possess the songwriting chops to back up the barrage. Svart Crown has both, and they execute through a particularly visceral and blistering blackened death metal attack. Upon first impression, this attack will sound an awful lot like a black metal version of Immolation. After all, there is a distinct Vigna quality to the contortionist don’t-call-it-a-breakdown coda of “Dogs of God” or the forceful verse riffs of “Nahash The Temptator,” and many of the album’s other memorable riffs have that certain backward quality to them. But apt as this impression is, it fails to paint the full bloody picture. Other elements bear similarities to the serpentine tremolo harmonies of Nightbringer, the deliberate delivery of black-thrash lords Absu or Razor of Occam (“Strength Higher Than Justice”), and even a touch of that delightfully cold twang that Glorior Belli have dabbled in of late (bits of epic closer “Of Sulphur And Fire”).
The result is a deceitfully dynamic 45-minute set of songs that show a surprising level of depth even after several spins, due as much to the smart arrangements as to Svart Crown’s collective ability as a tight unit of musicians. While not enough can be said of the riffs, the mid-range blackened growl of JB Le Bail leads the festivities, and the extremely skilled and opportunistic drumming of Gaël Barthélemy (who has also done time in Glorior Belli) can’t go without mention. As a true artist of heavy metal skinsmanship, Barthélemy simultaneously throws down the foundation whilst annihilating the upper floors.
As the scores above show, the only potential shortcoming of Witnessing The Fall is the production, which is really only a minor issue. The guitar tones are top notch, the vocals are layered perfectly, and the drums have a great organic-mechanical balance. So what’s the problem? Depth and volume. The mix is honestly a tad flat, and the mastering is way low. The former we’re stuck with, but the latter can be fixed by cranking this monstrous bitch, which is exactly what I advise you do.
So minor quibble about mixing and mastering aside, Witnessing The Fall gets a nearly universal heavy metal recommendation like very few albums I’ve reviewed before. It’s an album comprised of only highlights, and really the perfect soundtrack to kicking the shit out of the next person who quotes that lousy movie when they hear you’re a metal fan. This is metal for those of us who know, believe, and understand that the fist pump isn’t a ritual, it’s a reflex. Svart Crown will settle for no less than the utter annihilation of your fucking face, and neither should you.