However you feel about bands using drum machines and other digitized elements in their music, at least French duo Crown know what’s most important. Both initials-only members of the Colmar post-doom outfit — P.G. and S.A. – play guitar. P.G. also handles “machinery,” and in that, he’s got his hands full. Crown’s debut self-release, the five-track EP The One, finds both band members surrounded by a wash of inhuman electronic ambience, and not just the drum machine that thunders along the slowly looped beats they riff to. To go with S.A.’s varied vocals, shouting from the echoing reaches of the mix or aggressively, rhythmically growling in the Panopticon-era Isis tradition, Crown add a host of backing sounds to fill out their approach, and that can come either in the high-pitched abrasions of “Cosmogasm” or the hum that underscores the soft guitar and samples near the end of “Mare.” At times their sound is unremittingly dark, and it runs a gamut from Jesu-style (thinking 2006’s Silver EP minus the acoustic fixation) emotionality to a coldness I can only liking to the raining dystopia of Blade Runner. The guitar tones match that coldness as well, and I find myself pointing more toward Meshuggah for a sonic comparison even than Jesu, whose distinct lumber comes through more in how the guitars are used than the actual sound of them. There’s some commonality with Ufomammut in terms of the sheer size of their tones – and perhaps the hypnosis the repetition of their riffs affects – though working from a drum machine presents an inherent difference there, since the nature of a programmed loop is that it would be repetitive, and where a human drummer would add fills or other flourishes, beat changes, etc., Crown’s percussive edge furthers The One’s droning sensibility. S.A. and P.G. seem only too glad to follow that path as well in their riffing.
But to their credit, Crown aren’t trying to pass off mechanization as something organic on these tracks. Immediately with “Cosmogasm,” it’s apparent that instead, they want to use the inorganic as the basis for their atmospherics. A synth-heavy break is topped by foreboding, disjointed notes, and screams – there are almost certainly lyrics there, but I wouldn’t at all be able to tell what they are – are gradually submerged in a mounting tide of keyboard. Like every song on The One that follows, “Cosmogasm” ends cold and abrupt, leading into the subdued but tense intro of the title-track, which kicks in its riff a little past a minute into its total 6:49 and meets it head on with a buzzsaw-sounding noise that doesn’t last past the verse but is enough to give a headache in that few measures, should you happen to be sensitive to that kind of thing. Crown never get full-on industrial, but that side of their personality is never completely absent, and S.A.’s vocals – cleaner but purposefully monochromatic – echo out modernly, but have a sort of mid-‘90s industrial/goth drama to them on “The One,” which follows the pattern of “Cosmogasm” in breaking to a quieter section before exploding back into the apex. The course for the rest of the EP seems set, but veers with centerpiece “100 Ashes,” which is Crown’s most blatantly industrial inclusion. It’s the shortest of the bunch at 4:06, but a simple electronic beat stays forward in the mix and contrasts the sleepy ambience of the guitars and keys, and the vocals feel like semi-spoken manipulations more than anything that might act as a hook. The One is nothing, however, if it isn’t atmospherically cohesive – frighteningly so, in fact, since Crown’s only been a band since 2011 – and even for the shift it represents, “100 Ashes” only furthers the overall impact the EP makes.
Together, the final two tracks, “Mare” (7:38) and “Orthodox” (9:26) make up more than half of The One’s 33-minute runtime, but more importantly, they’re also its most adventurous material. “Mare” might be the highlight of the whole work – also where that earlier Meshuggah comparison feels the most applicable – but the mostly instrumental track is driven by an undeniable groove that’s met with lead lines only when the vocals come into play, and even then, the riff continues behind. S.A. layers in growls that, like the whole of The One are well mixed – what a coincidence that the release was recorded, mixed and mastered by Stephane Azam, who just happens to also have the initials S.A. – and the overarching drone seems to be most potent on the longer material, or maybe it’s just given more time to develop. In any case, the character continues to build as “Orthodox” commences its vaguely tribal beat. They don’t hesitate to put the rhythm out front – another method transposed from industrial music – but even the forwardness of the beat to “Orthodox” doesn’t suppress the melody of the guitars or the otherworldly vocals. Crown throw in a twist when after three and a half minutes in the beat drops and the guitar takes the fore, introducing the progression that mounts the build in the last six minutes, P.G. and S.A.’s guitars intertwining in what becomes a righteously slow rhythm, the “drums” dropping to half-time behind. There’s another stop, but it’s more to enhance the build than undercut its momentum, and even after nine minutes, when “Orthodox” ends, it feels sudden and soon. I guess that’s life, you might say in black and white while smoking a cigarette, but Crown seem to be dealing with more than just mortality on The One (“What else is there?” you’d ask after another drag), and whatever it is they’re beginning to puzzle out, it makes for an intriguing listen. As someone who usually decries methods that pull away from the humanity of recordings, I find exception in Crown’s semi-post-metal approach, as they seem to be able to evoke a human context for automated stimuli. They impress, and if they can keep their consistency moving forward into whatever might come next – can’t help but assume it would be The Two – they should be able to grow into something unique in underground heavy.
Tags: Colmar, Crown, France, Unsigned bands