One the biggest buzzes in metal this year comes around Swedish death metal crushers THE CROWN. The group is on sure footing these days after returning in 2009 from a five-year hiatus. Johan Lindstrand reclaimed the mike in 2011, rejoining bassist Magnus Olsfelt and rhythm guitarist Marko Tervonen as THE CROWN celebrated its quarter century in 2015 with "Death is Not Dead". The band's historical acumen for mashing thrash, grind, hardcore, power metal and even grit rock with melody pays off hugely on its rollercoaster new album, "Cobra Speed Venom".
"Destroyed by Madness"'s cello-assisted intro is hardly a new innovation to metal, but it certainly leaves its gruesome impact as the lurking channels open an intense path towards wicked fast thrash. It's hard not to shout the choruses of KREATOR's "Storming With Menace" alongside Johan Lindstrand here, but that's half the enjoyment of the track. That, and Robin Sorqvist leading THE CROWN's whirlwind of guitars, which will whip hairs off your scalp.
The blustery "Iron Crown" rules on so many levels, beginning with Henrik Axelsson's tsunami-speed drumming, much less its lashing melody. The song's breakdown would send many other bands packing. The difference to what THE CROWN does here and all over this album, is it drops rocked-out passages within the flailing speed. "In the Name of Death" shakes as much as it thrashes, making it ridiculously entertaining, especially when Robin Sorqvist peals his first solo seemingly at random. Henrik Axelsson's hammering intro to the track is astounding, much less the grind assault he simmers into the title track.
Wildly pleasurable is the PRONG-based stomp of "We Avenge! " where revolution just might come, and if it does, make sure you haven't been skipping leg day when the proposed march gathers. Said summons comes as quickly as the TESTAMENT-saluting "World War Machine". "Rise in Blood", even more so than "Necrohammer", is the audile equivalent of armored warriors luridly whisked towards death by Sauron in "The Lord of the Rings"'s Battle of Dagorlad.
But wait, what is that slow and easy instrumental with shades of greasy Southern rock amidst the gory funeral plod on "Where My Grave Shall Stand"? Yeeesh, what a trip. THE CROWN nearly falls over itself trying to blast out of the doom slogging intro to "The Sign of the Scythe". Afterwards, it finds its footing and turns out a marvelously dynamic finish to an album that plays about but ultimately plays for keeps. Hang tight afterwards for three equally gnarly nut-busting bonus tracks, "Nemesis Diamond", "The Great Dying" and "Ride the Fire".
Seldom do you come out of a death metal album exclaiming "Damn, that was fun!" Accolades of "brutal" being more commonplace, it's refreshing to hear THE CROWN bring everything to the table including the table itself, while making you shake your ass in-between headbangs. "Cobra Speed Venom" is one of 2018's must-own albums.