Album Review: Crown the Empire - 'Sudden Sky'
‘Sudden Sky’, the fourth album released by Texan metalcore band Crown The Empire, is a tense, aggressive affair: one that seems to be screaming in rage behind a seethingly blank facade.
It’s easy to listen to, if you’re at all heavy oriented; Crown The Empire do a phenomenal job of pairing metalcore aspects with electronic, almost poppy sensibilities, resulting in a duality of the two that harnesses the best of both genres. The album goes a long way in showing, if not outright proving, that the two aren’t necessarily wholly exclusive. It has a nice mix of pounding, vocal-chord rupturing affairs twinned with (comparatively) softer tracks, with a few horns, strings and spoken word thrown in for good measure, and retains their usual cinematic flair. In essence, it’s great!
‘Sudden Sky’ opens with a spoken word segment, titled ‘(X)’, about what it is to be afraid — about stalling and delaying issues with distractions. It questions what it is to be human in this day and age, in a zeitgeist characterised by technologically dependant lifestyles and living lives for tomorrow, or for yesterday. ‘Why do I ignore fires burning in the corner of my life until the flames are about to engulf me?’, lead singer Andy Leo asks, to a captivated and powerless audience. ‘I am here right now, so are you. I might be gone tomorrow, and so may you. This is Sudden Sky’. The build up and tension is almost palpable; the anger bubbling under the surface, more so. The spoken word intro, in many other cases, might feel flat or forced, but not here. Here, it’s almost confessional, intimate, with the band detailing the reasons why the album has come about. And what an album.
The first song to mention is ‘Red Pills’, which acts as a pseudo-microcosm of the album, and prefaces the incredible third single ‘MZRY’. The title, seemingly lifted from movie defining and career-making film, The Matrix, references the choice offered to protagonist Neo, played by Keanu Reeves: with the red pill acting as an escape from reality. You take the red pill and ‘you stay in Wonderland and see how deep the rabbit hole goes’. It offers the truth, and for an album described by the band as an ‘urgent search for meaning, that captures our innermost fears and anxieties while questioning humanity’, it’s a perfect metaphor. Despite, or perhaps because of the lofty standards set up by the title’s origin, the song stands out. It starts slowly, with an undercurrent of menace, and inexorably builds into something not wholly different to sheer chaos. But it’s a perfect example of a metalcore song with some balancing, almost tempering pop influences, and it probably does the best in managing the two. And, of course, it leads perfectly into latest single ‘MZRY’.
‘MZRY’, as well as the further red pill reference (‘its such a bitter pill to swallow/ but I learned to call it reality’), is just a great song. It has a few cathartic moments of sheer aggression, interspersed between catchy, addictive snippets of anthemic singing, all over a perfect-for-head-banging drum beat, and it all adds up an eccentric mash-up of elements that seem to blur together into one, glorious four minutes of frenzied, furious fun.
Which is a factor for much of the album. Listening through multiple times, not a single moment became tedious. It kept its joyous charm instigated with second track/ first conventional song 20/20 and kept riding it to create a brilliant album. Perhaps not revolutionary, or life-defining, or world-changing. Do some of the songs come across generic at times? Sure, though what songs don’t! But every single song is different from each other with that same continued motif of puppet-mastery and technology.
Take lead single ‘20/20’, for instance. It starts with an electronic undercurrent to Andy’s vocals over a tense, menacing, and heavily distorted guitar riff, giving the image of breaking free from technology. ‘I can feel it, the wires in my life’, Andy croons, being simultaneously reflective of the omnipresence of technology — particularly addictions to social media, instant gratification and lack of living in the moment — and of societal conformity. It acts as an almost anarchical, modernised take on the existential idea that existence precedes essence: that our lives are shaped by everyone around us; nothing more than puppets to anyone else in a position of power, the ‘wires’ manipulating us. The duality in the vocals, then, potentially reflect the twinning of public and private life, and the different personalities people have depending on the context: pleasant singing the more appealing facade and the screaming, vocal-rupturing aggression the emotions behind the stoic pretence.
The album, then, is more cohesive than most; it’s better than most, too. It has heavy moments, (if less so than previous albums) particularly ‘Red Pills’ and ‘SEQU3NCE’, and quieter, more contemplative ones, particularly ‘March of the Ignorant’, which could have easily been a ballad. More than anything, though, it’s candid. It’s not written for anyone other than the band itself. Its message may not be unique, but it’s thorough, nuanced and thought-provoking, and leaves the album as, if perhaps not perfect, a uniformly strong and enjoyable offering.
Words by James O’Sullivan