Artist: Night Crowned
Album Title: Hädanfärd
Label: Noble Demon
Date of Release: 9 July 2021
The press release accompanying ‘Hädanfärd’, the sophomore release from Night Crowned proudly declares that the Swede’s debut album, ‘Impius Viam’ was hailed by fans and critics alike as ‘one of the best releases of the year.’ Normally, I dismiss statements like this within press releases as pure hyperbole, but on this occasion, I know that this statement is true. That’s because I was one of those critics that bestowed such an accolade on the quartet in 2020. Of it, I wrote:
“Night Crowned have awakened something within me that I hadn’t realised was laying dormant. It has reminded me what it is I like about extreme metal and blackened death metal in particular, and why I got into this kind of music back as a teenager in the first place. My tastes may have changed and refined over the years, but there is still something within me that adores the blend of aggression, atmosphere and properly catchy melodies. ‘Impius Viam’ delivers this blend in spades…”
The debut release secured the number eight slot in my end of year ‘best of’ list and, had it not been for releases from the likes of Haken, Vanishing Point, Sorcerer, and Silent Skies, it would almost certainly have finished even higher. Not bad for a first attempt, even if the ranks of the band boast seasoned professionals involved in bands as well-known as Nightrage and Dark Funeral.
Naturally, I was excited to find out that Night Crowned would return less than 18 month later with their sophomore release, ‘Hädanfärd’. Unfortunately, its release coincided with an unexpected personal crisis, and not even a new slab of Swedish melodic blackened death metal could tempt me to listen to music at the time. As such, it is only now that I am able to digest the music and finally offer this review.
Right out of the gate, ‘Hädanfärd’ feels more extreme than its predecessor. It is a more condensed affair, being comprised of just nine tracks and with a run-time just shy of the 45-minute mark. But whilst the debut was no happy and jolly affair, ‘Hädanfärd’ ups the ante even further, with a greater emphasis on the black metal aspect of the band’s sound. If, like me, you enjoyed the more melodious side of Night Crowned’s sound, fear not though because this element has not been lost entirely. It is slightly more refined and occasionally more well-hidden in the compositions, but it is there and comes more to the fore as you rack up the listens.
That being said, opener ‘Nattkrönt’ is about as delicious a melodic blackened death metal song as you’re likely to hear all year. Sixteen seconds of an eerie piano melody is all the intro that Night Crowned permit, before the track explodes into an all-out frenzied attack of blastbeats and fast-picked riffing. It’s short-lived however, as the song quickly opens up to deliver easily one of the most striking melodic sections on the entire record. From there, the song flits between all-out melody and all-out savage attack – there is no in between here. The melodies are led by icy, yet memorable, epic-sounding lead guitar lines alongside some sparingly used clean vocals and synths for added effect. If ever there was a way to signal a band’s hungry return in a world that has gone to the dogs since their debut, it’s this. I’m paying attention, that’s for sure.
Happily, the eight remaining songs are up to the task, happy to beat us around the head with some punishing extreme metal. ‘Rex Tenebrae’ is insanely fast, with drumbeats and fills that threaten to signal the end of J Jaloma’s limbs. The riffs are equally fast and uncompromising, but as is the Night Crowned way, there’s a healthy melodic sheen to the track. In addition, this is also a more theatrical composition because, in between the blasts of extremity, we’re treated to some sinister, Gothic splendour, featuring enhanced clean vocals, synth-led choral effects and orchestration, not to mention a really nice lead solo that leads us back into brutal territories.
I could mention just about every track on this album, but in order to keep things as succinct as possible, I’ll instead pick out a couple of my favourites. First up in that regard has to be ‘Gudars Skymning’ because it’s a simply stunning composition. It begins in the way that most songs on this album do: in uncompromising fashion, full of power and malevolence. There is space for some great chunky riffs and groove, as well as some fast-picked melodic riffing to create an engaging, multi-layered soundscape. But just shy of the two-minute mark, there’s a pronounced shift to a more mid-tempo approach, allowing the composition a little space to focus on increased atmospheres. There are hints at some epic melody, but when the song opens up fully, those melodies are incredible, catching my ear immediately. And then, when the lead guitars enter, initially atop a minimalist background, it’s shivers-down-the-spine territory for me – so mournful, but so poetic and eloquent at the same time. The great thing about this song however, is the way in which it never sits still, switching between ideas at will.
I’m also a fan of the over-the-top ‘Grått & Ödelagt’ which is both beautiful and savage in equal measure. And what’s more, it feels as if the band revel in the fact that they are able to create something like this – the music leaps from the speakers eagerly and with an energy that suggests Night Crowned had a blast (pardon the pun) putting this record together. Alongside the enhanced orchestration and Gothic trappings, we get the ubiquitous razor-sharp icy riffs and blastbeats, not to mention the evil rasp from K Romlin to add extra malevolence. And yet, the song remains accessible and thoroughly memorable from beginning to end thanks to well-placed melody that peeks through the tumult as and when required, most notably via a great lead solo at the mid-point.
Clearly, Night Crowned have benefitted from keeping a stable line-up, as the output on this sophomore release so ably demonstrates. Whether it was a result of the pandemic, or other influences, the Swedes appear angrier, more evil, and more determined to wreak havoc on anyone who cares to listen. But it is tempered by some sophisticated and clever songwriting, alongside enough melody to ensure that you are pulled back for repeated listens. And, with each run through, the music gets stronger, the hooks burrow deep, and the atmosphere seeps into your subconscious. With such a strong debut under their belts and with such a quick turnaround, I had my doubts that ‘Hädanfärd’ would live up to my expectations. Well, I shouldn’t have been so doubtful, because ‘Hädanfärd’ is every bit as impressive as the debut. Angrier, spikier, more malevolent, but still rather magnificent.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: