Crom - Vengeance 4/5
1. Wings of fire
2. The restless king
4. Vengenance part I - The Cause
5. Vengenance part II - and the effect
6. Unchain the hero
7. A life unbearable
8. The stars will fall
9. Hammer of the Gods
Now here's something right up my alley. Don't let the murky, spartan Kris Verwimp cover painting or cobwebbed band logo fool you: this 'Vengeance' CD has nothing to do with black metal. Instead, Crom, the brainchild of one Walter "Crom" Grosse, is perched firmly in the realm of epic, slightly doomy true metal popularized by the likes of Doomsword, Battleroar and Holy Martyr. By all appearances, 'Vengeance' is a labor of love for Herr Grosse, who wrote, arranged and produced all the songs; contributed all of the lead vocals; and played all instruments other than drums on this CD. Recorded back in the summer of 2006, 'Vengeance' is only now seeing the light of day via the typically reliable German label, Pure Steel Records.
What is immediately striking about 'Vengeance' is that, while it is certainly epic metal through and through, it bears a darker, more melancholy mood than the swashbuckling marching-off-to-battle sounds of Crom's contemporaries. The difference, I think, lies in Grosse's infusion of Bathory-influenced melodies and arrangements into these songs, circa Quorthon's crowning creative achievement, 'Twilight of the gods'. The gently strummed acoustic guitars, the majestic choirs in the background of many songs, and the wind-through-your-hair Viking melodies lend an air of dignity, refinement, contemplative reverence, and sorrowful power to the proceedings, just as Quorthon did at his most inspired. 'Vengeance' works because it combines the conventions of the Greek/Italian epic true metal style with the flair and atmosphere of Bathory's viking era. Thus, it would be grossly unfair to dismiss Grosse's work as a mere Bathory clone or a faceless Hellenic metal wannabe, inasmuch as Crom is melding these genres in a (to my ears, at least) unique and intoxicating fashion. Tracks like "Wings of fire" and "Unchain the hero" offer up relatively straightforward true metal a la old Manowar, while the Quorthon influences shine through on the mighty "Hammer of the gods", "The Stars will fall", and "The Restless King".
It might be a natural reaction to assume from the one-man-band nature of this project that various aspects of the performances and compositions are lacking; however, that assumption would be inaccurate in Crom's case. From a songwriting, production and musicianship standpoint, 'Vengeance' is an extremely professional release in all facets, lacking the glaring foibles and obvious pitfalls that tend to diminish solo efforts. Vocally, too, Grosse does an excellent job. His range is limited and his German accent percolates to the surface, but his quite clean, soothing, emotive mid-range vocals (reminding me of no one more than the guy from Seven on their criminally overlooked 'Break the chains' CD from the late 90s) fit the music quite well. Just listen to Grosse's voice soaring through the chorus of "Wings of fire" or plaintively lamenting his fate in "A life unbearable" to see what I mean. Some may think the vocals aren't powerful or gritty enough for an epic metal CD, but I experienced no such difficulties with them. Grosse sings 1,000x better than Quorthon ever did, that's for sure.
After logging some quality time with 'Vengeance', my biggest question is why it took Crom 2 years to secure a record deal? Fans of epic true metal with clean vocals should welcome this release with open arms. And those looking for a fresh take on a saturated viking metal genre should find much to their liking with Crom's debut CD. By the Gods, here's hoping that Odin bestows upon Grosse the ability to unleash a suitable follow-up to 'Vengeance' in the coming years.
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