There’s something to be said for craftsmanship. If all the pieces fit together snugly and the whole performs as easy as you expect it to, what’s not to like? Almost a decade into their second life The Crown have their brand of Swedish death/thrash nailed down like a fine table, and Cobra Speed Venom, while offering nothing new in the way of innovation, is a reliable and sturdy entry in the band’s discography, offering plenty of chugging and that distinct guitar crunch that can only come from the lands of Entombed, Carnage, and In Flames.
I mention In Flames because the first thing I thought of when I listened to Cobra Speed Venom was how much I wish In Flames was making music like this again. And by “this” I mean “music that has a pulse” and by “again” I mean “because honestly since Come Clarity I can’t really justify anything they’ve done.” The Crown have nailed a particular sound, and since my first exposure to them with 2000’s Deathrace King the band have emphasized a vocally articulate, rapid-fire brand of metal that really accentuates the thrash riffs while having a solid foundation in the fertile ground that was the New Wave of Swedish Death Metal popularized by bands like In Flames, Soilwork, and Dark Tranquillity. But those progenitors never had the glorious thrash cadence of tracks like “Deathexplosion” or the beautifully named “Blitzkrieg Witchcraft.”
It was a similar experience with 2002’s Crowned in Terror. From the outset of the title track the band exhibited an almost surreal facility with catchy riffs and speed that singled them out from a herd of bands that struggled to emulate the surgical precision of “Under the Whip” while standing out. The switch from Johan Lindstrand to Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates) on vocals was brief and did nothing to change the method of attack. But that’s the thing – when everything is this precise and on point, how much of it do you need? I’ll admit that despite their reformation in 2010 with Doomsday King I wasn’t exactly hurting for new material – the albums I had gave me everything I need. Even 2015’s Death Is Not Dead with Lindstrand back on vocals didn’t really move me, despite everything oiled and moving according to the lines set forth 15 years ago.
Which brings us back to the present, and Cobra Speed Venom, with is admittedly one HELL of an album title. The Crown haven’t lost a step in the intervening years, and kicking off with “Destroyed by Madness” certainly demonstrates that, with a twisted verse riff and those patented vocals that are actually decipherable. I’ll throw bonus points to the album cover, though it’s a mystery what it has to do with the title of the album. Although again: if there’s a more metal title to an album this year I haven’t heard it. The streak of fast, frantic death/thrash continues with “Iron Crown” and “In the Name of Death” which boasts a rock and roll swagger that more than justifies its batting position.
But that’s also where I start to question myself: when an album does what it’s supposed to do, how much value do you place on it? There’s nothing bad at all on Cobra Speed Venom (if nothing else I will NEVER get tired of that title) but there’s also nothing that would make me choose it over Deathrace King or Crowned in Terror. Look, your mileage may vary, and I can understand how the pinch harmonics in “Necrohammer” or the mid-paced highlight of “Where My Grave Shall Stand” will resonate more with you than with me. And I’ll freely admit the fact that I’ve hit the bottom of the wine bottle I opened at the start of this review and it’s making me more amenable to the record. But the question remains: how much of The Crown do you need? Look at it this way: I have two perfectly serviceable chairs. Do I need a third?
In closing I just realized I compared Cobra Speed Venom to a third chair. Which is unfair: no chair I own has a name as cool as Cobra Speed Venom. I guess what I’m trying to get at is The Crown are firing on the same cylinders they always have. That’s great if you want more of the same. But if you’re looking for any sort of a left-hand turn here you’ll be disappointed.
But in these troubled times maybe a little consistency is just what you need. If so, The Crown has you covered.