Artist: Crown Lands
Album Title: Fearless
Label: Spinefarm / Universal Music Canada
Date of Release: 31 March 2023
Music is a funny old thing, especially when mixed with the human mind. Put the two together and I swear that it makes less and less sense every day. Take this album as a prime example. A power duo from Canada, Crown Lands play a style of progressive rock with classic rock and psychedelic leanings that would normally not even cross my mind to check out. In some ways, their output is not too dissimilar to the output of their iconic compatriots, Rush. The music is technical and complex but delivered with precision and a flamboyance that’s impressive. Even the higher-register vocals are reminiscent of Mr Geddy Lee of Rush. Add in other references from Wolfmother to Led Zeppelin, and many more in between, and I’d be betting my paltry wages on the fact that I’d probably have a listen to one song and then give up.
Thank goodness I’m not a betting man, though, because here I am with ‘Fearless’, the sophomore album from Crown Lands and I’m absolutely loving it. At this stage, I fear it might become a tad obsessive, but for now, I’ll call it a strong affection. Bizarre, huh?!
What’s even more bizarre is the fact the first song I listened to from ‘Fearless’ was the opening track, ‘Starlifter: Fearless Pt. II’, a song of a mere eighteen minutes in length. Not only did it not put me off, but it managed to almost effortlessly pull me under its not inconsiderable spell. It doesn’t miss a beat from beginning to end, winding its way effortlessly through a vibrant, colourful, and engaging soundscape that twists and turns with the kind of fluidity that you wish all ‘epics’ of this length could muster. Unfamiliar with the debut currently (although I will rectify this ASAP), the composition, in the words of drummer and vocalist Cody Bowles, “spans hundreds of years following our titular hero: Fearless after the events of (2021 single) ‘The Oracle.’ He stands against the colonization of outer space and the decimation of his people to reclaim what was stolen by capitalistic greed and bloodshed.”
However, the myriad of clever ideas, interesting time signatures, and atmospheres means it keeps my attention each and every time I press play. Through the use of some bold synths at various times, courtesy of Kevin Comeau, who also handles the guitars and bass, there is a certain sci-fi vibe to the music, with layers of effects entering the fray when prudent to do so. That said, the biggest strength to the song is the multitude of wonderful melodies that pull me in, sometimes lurking around a hidden corner, or bold as brass, culminating in a stunning, aching lead just prior to the 15-minute mark, which then acts as the gateway to arguably my favourite passage of the song, the quiet introspective pause, followed by something much more upbeat, urgent, and addictive.
The musicianship throughout from the talented duo is spectacular, matched by a production that offers the instruments plenty of space to shine. Every drum hit, every chord, every tinkling keyboard note, and every bass string pluck can be heard and enjoyed. And yet, there’s a certain authenticity to the production courtesy of Dave Botrill, who worked with the likes of Rush and Mastodon in the past, meaning that it’s not sterile or lacking warmth. I never suffer fatigue listening, only withdrawal symptoms when the album ends.
With such a powerful and all-encompassing opening composition, the concern is that maybe the remainder of the album will pale into insignificance. Not a chance here, as there’s not one of the eight other songs that I feel the desire to skip. The vibe of the 70s is strong within ‘Dreamer Of The Dawn’, a track that rips along at a lovely pace, led by the drumming of Bowles, accompanied by waves of synths, spritely guitar playing, and a killer chorus that gets immediately lodged in your head. Meanwhile, there’s a slightly heavier, darker vibe to ‘The Shadow’ that slots right into my personal wheelhouse. The riffs within the catchy chorus have a proper edge to them, accenting the quieter, brooding verses where keys create the bulk of the musical backdrop. The fuzzed-up lead solo is infectious, and the sub-four-minute affair is over in the blink of an eye.
Arguably my favourite track of them all is ‘Starlifter: Fearless Pt. I’, which is a sumptuous prog rock track that continues where ‘Pt II’ left off, or maybe even acts as the prologue. Either way, there are echoes of the first song within ‘Pt I’, most notably, the sensationally addictive chorus that builds upon a line uttered in the opener: ‘If life is a wheel, please let it spin’. It’s at this point where I can no longer contain my adoration for this record, air guitaring for all I’m worth, flailing my arms in some kind of air drumming seizure, and raising my head to the sky to sing the chorus. And this is in public, often as I walk my dog near my home. People may stare, but I simply don’t care as the power of the music overtakes me. The bass work as the song develops is superb, throbbing with intensity, whilst the delicate guitar touches accent the brighter, bolder chords delightfully, bathing the complex track with an immediacy and warmth that is often out of reach for lesser acts. And the finale is pure, unadulterated exuberance.
Interestingly, for all its upbeat nature and welcoming embrace, the final track, ‘Citadel’ allows the duo to introduce a slightly more sombre, almost melancholy vibe upon which to close things out. The opening piano notes hint at something slightly different, a hint that is fully realised as the track develops. Such is their skill, however, that Bowles and Comeau manage to beguile me in an equally strong way, and I’m drawn utterly into the slower, more introspective soundscape that they create, especially as the intensity builds throughout to deliver a rousing, spinetingling finale to the album.
There are undoubtedly others who will be able to describe the technicality in more detailed fashion, and others who may hear more obvious reference points here and there given their greater knowledge with this kind of music. Instead, I want to end this review by simply saying that there are bands out there that, for one reason or another, just click, regardless of their style or genre. And this is one of those bands for me. Crown Lands came into my consciousness by way of a recommendation, and since the first listen, a love affair has begun. So much so, that it’s an album winging its way to me as I type, one that I cannot wait to add to my CD collection. It may not be my usual ‘thing’, but good music is good music, and ‘Fearless’ contains some sensational progressive rock music that is impossible to ignore.
The Score of Much Metal: 94%