Release DetailsRELEASED ON 10/12/2012
When Crowned fully realizes their abilities, Vacuous Spectral Silence is elevated.
Vacuous Spectral Silence
There’s a term used by sports analysts called “upside,” meaning that a prospect is often not judged based on current production, but what they could potentially become. It is why a baseball team will often trade away a fan favorite for a Triple-A player that has yet to become a household name. Fans will be outraged, not always understanding that their local hero has peaked and can take the team no further, while the prospect could potentially be a superstar. It’s all based on hope.
In music, a certain band may fill a career being better than average but never brilliant, but because they’re a safe bet, they will garner a certain fan-favorite status. Other acts (the prospects) might need to rely on a little faith from their listeners to not only become comfortable with their current output, but also hold out for the classics to arrive.
Australia’s Crowned is one such prospect. Debut Vacuous Spectral Silence isn’t universally brilliant, and there aren’t that many unique elements to be heard, but it offers intrigue, and the kind of potential rarely evident from a band with just two years under their belt. This intrigue comes through mostly in how they adapt influences of the highest order without committing an ounce of clichéd plagiarism. Touches of Agalloch stay firmly on the blackened side of the coin, always seeking to attain that crucial balance of melancholy and malevolence. Forays into expansive Wolves in the Throne Room terrain never give into atmospheric indulgence, but instead maintain the harsh maliciousness that always permeates the music of the brothers Weaver (particularly in the vocals, which reek of violent desperation). Best yet, tones of the 90s undercut many of the more recent influences, from the occasional Dissectionish neoclassical line or hints of Hordanes Land that only become apparent as the songs unravel their details.
The signs that Crowned is a band with great upside are revealed as much in the album’s shortcomings as they are in the moments of pure bliss. Put simply, there are zero faults on Vacuous Spectral Silence that truly harm songs, but instead sections that get away with less than engaging riffcraft because they successfully ride the overwhelmingly ghostly aura that is crafted here. This aura is tastefully enhanced by small touches such as synthesized “chants” in “Diamonds” that give off a mild Ruins of Beverast vibe, or some extra Second Wave elements like hypnotic triplet hi-hat action. Sure, some passages meander, or, like the would-be payoff of “Journey to the Cross-roads,” fail to quite make the impact they should, but because the album’s vibe bleeds into every note, these embryonic traits never become a distraction. They instead craft merely entertaining passages to be enjoyed while waiting for the excellence to be revealed.
And revealed it is, quite often. When Crowned fully realizes their abilities, Vacuous Spectral Silence is elevated. “Firmament” creates a kind of magical stop-time moment by enhancing and presenting the main tremolo theme sans blast beats. It is a haunting nakedness that is wisely returned to but never overdone. “Apocryphal Catacomb,” on the other hand, relies less on harmonies and more on isolated leads that soar over the tortured music beneath, crafting a tone that is almost a twisted reflection on what Agalloch achieved with last year’s “Faustian Echoes.” The closing title track makes the most out of its repetition, adding threads of intensity and melody throughout its extended 13 minute runtime without really constructing an obviously complex arrangement.
The fact that Vacuous Spectral Silence is less-than-perfect but still extremely recommended listening shows exactly how far Crowned could possibly go. Who knows, maybe this is all erroneous speculation, as plenty of prospects fail to live up to their perceived potential. To take the examples of two NOLA supergroups, some maintain merely a “pretty good” level (Goatwhore) and others become an outright bust (Superjoint Ritual). Time will tell where Crowned can take their music, and truthfully, putting so much emphasis on their potential undermines what they’ve achieved here, which is quite a lot. Still, one can’t help to imagine the possible heights. Here’s to hope.