Even by the standards of ephemeral scene metalcore, Crown The Empire have always had a rough time. Compared to similarly flashy acts like Motionless In White or Issues, they’ve never had that one big single that’s sent them over the top, let alone a whole album to achieve the same effect, and thus they’ve always hung around a heavily demarcated mid-tier, even as a media push has tried in vain to get them out. The truth is, while they have melodic instincts that could set them off as a band to keep an eye on, they’ve rarely done anything that interesting or special with them, and their whole identity has felt like one of emulating other, bigger bands with little to no payoff. And with the singles preceding Sudden Sky displaying no sign of any change (not to mention a reveal-to-release period that suggest this is something to just be over and done with), all signs have pointed to their efforts here being met with an equally fallow response.
And with that in mind, it’s tempting to be charitable here. After all, it’s not like Crown The Empire are trying to wedge the processed, production-line style of metalcore back into fashion again in the way that some others could easily be dismissed as doing, and defaulting to it for little reason other than keeping themselves afloat feels more pitiable than outright disagreeable. But even with those exceedingly generous qualifications, Sudden Sky still ends up underwhelming, and while it’s hard to fault Crown The Empire’s ambitions on this album, an execution and lack of depth that doesn’t feel superficial leave a lot to be desired, and this overall feels like yet another filler album from a band who currently have no shortage of those to their name.
At least when it comes to the positives, Sudden Sky retains the core of crucial strengths that have at least prevented Crown The Empire from being quite as disposable or detestable as some of their contemporaries. Andy Leo’s vocals are the easiest to pin down with a smoother pop focus that works fairly well on tracks like Red Pills and Under The Skin, and the fact that the band aim a fair bit higher in terms of compositional breadth does give them a few bonus marks in the long run. Theatricality has always been fairly commonplace for Crown The Empire, but widening their ambition beyond even that does yield some good results, the clear standout being the genuinely great pop-rock of BLURRY (out of place) which consolidates their biggest visions into a manageable, catchy package with a fair amount of ease. But that sonic liberality seemingly comes at the mercy of quality control, something that appears especially noticeable when Sudden Sky is prone to wild stylistic veers that aren’t that good at hiding how they clearly don’t work. A lot of this does feel like a result of the clean production giving the band the impression that overloading on synthetic tones is something that they should do, but there’s really no excuse for how out of place and mismatched the combination of sandy drum ‘n’ bass skitters and farting synth-horns sounds on March Of The Ignorant, nor is there any reason why MZRY has seemingly no coherent structure in the way it slides across a plucked ‘gothic’ motif lifted straight from an early Set It Off song to blank-faced metalcore inflation. At least when playing to the more traditional scene-core playbook like on what i am or the title track, it’s more boring than outright bad, but that alone begs the question of why Crown The Empire are even bothering with a sound as dated as this, especially when they’re doing nothing to freshen it up.
Of course, when the lyrical focus effectively comes down to running through the old stomping grounds of anxieties and mental anguish that characterised so much of the early-to-mid-2010s post-hardcore, it at least seems fitting, and to their credit, Crown The Empire aren’t hitting the absolute easiest targets here. There’s at least a bit widescreen dedication to the theme on tracks like 20/20 and BLURRY (out of place) that’s easier to appreciate, but the real killing blow for it all happens with the spoken-word intro (X), the sort of pretentious pseudo-philosophical rambling designed to give the impression of highfalutin grandeur and incisive questioning, only to fall into the same holding pattern that’s rendered so many of these albums as basically interchangeable. Maybe there’s a fraction more than that with Crown The Empire, but they’re really pushing it, and any commentary they do offer doesn’t deviate too far from a very cookie-cutter norm.
But at the end of the day, considering this is a Crown The Empire album, it’s amazing that that much can be said in the first place. They’re clearly trying to come up with something and that deserves some recognition, but Sudden Sky still feels like a collection of malformed ideas and dated ways of going about them, leaving in its place an album that just kind of exists with barely anything to really show. At least it’s keeping Crown The Empire around a bit longer and hopefully give them more opportunities to actually grow into what their band should be in the modern day, but if that hasn’t happened yet, the chances are it really isn’t going to.
For fans of: Ice Nine Kills, Motionless In White, Set It Off
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Sudden Sky’ by Crown The Empire is released on 19th July on Rise Records.