Album Review: Southwicked - Death's Crown
There's a phenomenon in sports where once great athletes, on the verge of the end, return to the teams they made their legends with on one-day contracts, giving themselves a sense of closure as they fade away into the land of archive footage forevermore. Musicians rarely get that kind of self-serving charade. Bands who reunite after years or even decades seldom manage to live up to the standards we remember of them, and members who return to the fold after time in exile often fail to grasp the passage of time that has altered the group they disappeared from. For musicians, time is always moving forward, and the moment anyone stops to plant their flag in the past, nostalgia overtakes them, and they forfeit their creative spirit.
It's encouraging to see musicians who continue to produce new music after their initial glory years, because their dedication to music is the bond through which we connect to them. Just as we never stop listening, something about the idea of musicians giving up on creating is an odd thought. Southwicked illustrates this idea, as guitarist Allen West continues adding new music to his lengthy resume. A founding member of both Obituary and Six Feet Under, he is one of the men responsible for the sound and success of American death metal. Two decades after his start, with all the associated drama now in the past, he continues to move forward playing the music he helped define.
“Death's Crown” gets off to a false start, a spoken word intro leading into the first track, which continues to waste time with atmospheric textures before the first guitar leads fill the speakers. All of this can be considered setting the stage, but it tests the patience, and requires the first song to be a killer. The title track comes close to redeeming the start, a perfectly old-school recreation of the late 80's Florida death metal scene. With riffs that treat technicality like a foreign concept, the song bludgeons its way through a catchy guitar part, combined with growls that show just enough variation in cadence to be appealing. If anything, the five minute running time goes by too quickly, the structure of having the solo at the beginning making the song feel incomplete.
“Craving For Blood” does the same thing, beginning with West's lead guitar pyrotechnics. The playing is good, but doesn't resonate outside the structure of the song. The solo can't elevate what hasn't been played yet. The crusty riff introduced after the chorus stops the song on its head, veering in a speedier direction before a riff dripping in groove appears for a short while, all making the song a more interesting endeavor. The extra riffs breaking up the standard structures add bits of color to the usually monochrome sound of death metal, letting the songs expand just enough to avoid falling in on themselves.
“The Phantom Prince” blends some Judas Priest styled riffs into the mix, changing up the tempo, and making the song easier to digest. The trait may not be appreciated by diehard death metal fans, but having music that is penetrable helps make the music stand out from the countless bands who treat brutality as a badge of honor. That isn't to say that Southwicked is easy listening, as the rough-edged guitar tone is straight out of the classic era, a nod to the past that isn't overdone. It enhances the aura of the album, which is clear enough to be modern, but makes the polished approach of recent death metal records sound clinical and death. “Death's Crown” has life in the sound, which makes the music jump out with ease.
Whether the chugging rhythms of “Graveyard Of Bones” or the major key chords in “Charming Karma”, Southwicked delivers an album of no-frills death metal that harkens back to the spirit of the classics. This is death metal that isn't afraid to be catchy at times, it's music that would rather bring listeners in than try its best to repel them. Plain and simple, “Death's Crown” is death metal done right.