Most bands playing epic doom have pretty much the same small set of influences. Obvious names like Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus are the big ones, and a smaller subset of bands will take from cult favorites like Scald or Solstice alongside a variety of epic and less epic heavy metal bands and classic doom influences. Not many bands are willing to wear influences on their sleeve from outside the realm of classic doom and heavy metal entirely, and most bands trying to do similar stuff just suck at it.

Stygian Crown are the exception -- the band’s main songwriters have played death metal and death/doom for decades now, and that influence comes across so heavily in Stygian Crown that they’ve taken to self-describing their style as "Candlethrower," a mix of Bolt Thrower and Candlemass. Though I hear a lot more similarities to the crushing Texan devastation and melodic approach that Solitude Aeturnus gave on their first couple of records than to Candlemass, the portmanteau is a great little snapshot of what Stygian Crown are all about.

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The riffage within their self-titled debut ranges from more typical doom fare to stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in Morgion or Asphyx (which makes sense given that Stygian Crown band leader Rhett Davis is best known from his years in Morgion), and though most similar groups write song structures that transition too jarringly to flow well, Stygian Crown make sure that everything fits together. When I interviewed Rhett, he mentioned that the entire band works together to write and arrange the songs, and it’s there that their long collective years of experience shine the most -- there are a lot of bands out there that can write good riffs, but only a fraction of those can put them together in a way that makes sense and keeps listeners engaged.

A strong rhythm section is even more important in doom than in most types of metal, and fortunately, Stygian Crown has a mighty one: Rhett on drums and bassist Jason Thomas. Grooves are locked in tight, and the drumming hits as hard as any I’ve heard on a recent doom record. The beats are meticulously selected to maintain momentum and add strength to the band’s already-pummeling riffs. Another clear highlight are the powerful and nimble vocals provided by the band’s singer, Melissa Pinion. It’s rare to run into a really riffy band with a vocalist that matches the strength of the instrumentals in modern doom, but Melissa consistently shines above everything else. Sections that would otherwise plod are saved by her passionate singing, and her tone is pleasantly dark and full in a way that’s uncommon in a subgenre full of people trying to sing as high as they can. Her vocal melodies are memorable and catchy without pushing either of those things in your face.

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These elements are bolstered significantly by the production: the drums are huge (if a tiny bit clicky here or there), the guitars are bigger, and I can’t imagine Melissa sounding better than she does on here. I really hope the band sticks with this production approach for their next effort because they’re already at a level of audio quality that, at least to my ears, is going to be hard to match going forward.

The end result of all of this experience coming together is a collection of stupidly high points that compete with any of the best that modern epic doom has to offer. The chorus of "Flametongue" could level mountains, and every other song has moments like that which stick in the brain and call for movement and emotion. All of that being said, though, not everything is perfect, even with the highs being as stupendous as they are. There are only seven songs (discounting the short intro) on Stygian Crown, and the sum of those is more than fifty minutes of music; it’s a rare band that can write a record without any snags or less-interesting parts, and Stygian Crown don’t quite manage it. Some parts drag, and others lack the power to keep the momentum of the album going -- a distinct disadvantage given the length. Still, Stygian Crown are astonishingly good at what they do, especially given that this is their first record. Great things await us, and while we wait, the album that’s already here is really, really damn good.

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Stygian Crown released June 26th via Cruz del Sur Music.


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