Album Review: Stygian Crown – Funeral For A King

Album Review: Stygian Crown – Funeral For A King
Reviewed by Sam Jones

Let’s look at something a little different for a change, in the form of Stygian Crown’s sophomore full length album: Funeral For A King. Formed back in 2018 out of California, United States, Stygian Crown vie for an Epic Doom Metal sound reminiscent to Cirith Ungol, championing a firm heavy metal persona whilst injecting their songwriting with layers of doom in the familiar vibe of old school Doom like Trouble, Saint Vitus and more. Their first Demo, Through Divine Rite, released in 2018 and, two years on, the band unleashed their debut, self-titled album. I realised after picking this album up that I’ve encountered the band before but hadn’t given them their due. Yet, slated for a February 23rd release date and continuing their partnership with Cruz Del Sur Music, this was a golden opportunity to get a taste for Stygian Crown’s style. Let’s peel back the doom to see what these guys are about.

It’s rare for a band to grab my attention with the first, opening notes. But that’s the case with Stygian Crown’s instrumental, title track as they introduce us to their sound; what you have to give the band credit for is the speed by which they instil atmosphere into their songwriting without throwing a copious number of elements in your face. The guitar work is resolute and solid, you can feel the taut strings playing as each chord and note is played but, high above it and often, can be found the keyboards playing an ambient place. The atmospherics aren’t vying to dominate the soundscape entirely as that would diminish the input the main band are providing, but the keyboard especially is being utilised in the same manner by which a more crushing band would adopt a seething tone; it’s something extra to tag onto the band’s main performance. However, you’ll find the keyboards aren’t used in every track and, even when they’re used, the theatrical element is often subdued for a classic approach, implementing piano sections, alongside more symphonic instances of string sections, in a bid to continuously mix things up. This isn’t a by the books Epic Doom Metal record, the atmospheric element is always evolving and is rarely the same aesthetic twice.

While Epic Doom Metal has it legions of fans, I’ve been a little bit or miss with it and there haven’t been too many bands I’ve thoroughly enjoyed within this moniker. Yet I felt I would soon be adding Stygian Crown to that select few when I heard the sheer wall of bass this record projects. Forget standing in its own corner trundling along, the band proudly thrust the bass right to the absolute precipice of their soundscape to the point where its audible at every single moment, and you’ll be glad for it seeing just thick and delicious its basslines are. When I heard the bass guitar initially I was genuinely taken aback; this is absolutely how a bass guitar should sound both instrumentally and within the mix. Storming out of the gate, we’re in assured hands that this album isn’t going to fall on stale ground since Stygian Crown have propped their foundations with such a meaty bass and, in addition, due to how it bounces as you listen, it never feels one-dimensional and is as active a part of a song as any conventional guitar or drum track is.

Album Review: Stygian Crown – Funeral For A King

It must be said that Stygian Crown possess a magical talent for pacing. As I listened to the record, track through track, it felt entirely natural that the song I was listening to at whatever period, was the only way the writing could have gone; it was as if the songwriting was divinely ordained. Of course, that riff had to perfectly follow from the sustained vocals note. Of course, it was seamless for the music to pick up momentum after that little segment. Removing various sequences from these tracks would do each of them a disservice. The band’s ethos may be towards the steadier momentum yet that doesn’t stop them from breaking out into faster and heavier territory, but only when it feels most apt for the songwriting to require it. I think the resolute, clenched aesthetic their sound harnesses really helps the band in this instance as, even at their slowest, at their building moments, everything feels like it has purpose and has been so refined and orchestrated that, whatever you’re listening to in the moment, was the only choice possible to write up for that track you’re enjoying.

At the forefront of the band’s performance lies Melissa Pinion’s vocal delivery, a particularly commanding presence that’s bound to get people talking. What I like most about it, is how for most of the record she could be said to be barely singing; due to the nature of Epic Doom Metal, it befits drawn out vocal performances the most and Pinion possesses the perfect vocal tone that, when emphasised enough, gives her voice a strong projection without her needing to try too much. There are times where her vocals do go the extra mile, where the sustained notes are higher in pitch or she’s having to adjust the timbre on her performance but, for the most part, she sticks the landing precisely because of how natural her performance sounds. She doesn’t need to change her vocal performance all that much to fit the need or tone of the record, it’s a match made in heaven between vocalist and band. I also appreciate how the vocals don’t slam themselves into your face any every given moment; they let us come to the conclusion ourselves this woman can perform, and then the band let the rest do the talking. We don’t get a slew of high pitched notes or screams every ten seconds, it doesn’t need it.

In conclusion, it needs to be said how easy this was to listen to. The fact that Stygian Crown didn’t record an hour long piece is a mercy in of itself which is often a staple of Epic Doom Metal, giving us enough to sink our teeth into but always whetting our appetites for another bout. I don’t know what I was expecting to get out of Funeral For A King but this record, going in blind, was an awesome surprise and I’m not only excited for what’s to come in the future but I’d like to see what their debut full length was like now. There really aren’t many Epic Doom Metal bands I actively follow, probably only as many as there are fingers on my hands but Funeral For A King may be the best time I’ve had listening to such a record since Crypt Sermon’s last record, it really is that good. There are no doubt going to be some faster records throughout this year of this style, but it’s how Stygian Crown use pacing and songwriting to their advantage that gives them a massive edge over all that’s to come this year. Not only a strong record for the band, but one of the finest Epic Doom Metal records I’ve heard in years.

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