Photo by Kim Song Sternkopf (HeartMatter Artworks)
Let’s make ourselves nice and comfortable, tune in Prophet’s Breath (2015) – the latest release by a Danish death metal outfit Crocell – and have a little talk about death metal (if you haven’t heard the album yet, now is about the right time to fix that).
As one tries to educate themselves on the very origins of death metal, one might stumble upon certain interviews from the early eighties conducted by music reporters – most likely covering for the local news or startup magazines in, let’s say, Florida – approaching the genre representatives. The typical sets of questions would usually deal with brutal sound, graphic lyrics, grotesque visuals and violent behavior of the crowd during the live shows of death metal bands. Also, they would act surprised why the young creatives choose jamming in basements some pretty violent tunes instead of getting some vitamin D on the beach. However, sipping Alabama slammer, looking at the crashing waves with some disco tunes or a smooth power ballad in the background while wearing Hawaii shirt was not the particular idea of fun these people had in mind.
Those were the sorts of thoughts I was haunted by while going to meet Tommy, Rasmus and Andreas in MONO. Undoubtedly, while interviewing the three members of Crocell, I did end up sounding a bit like one of those interviewers from the eighties. Why? Well, to begin with, I’m not entirely sure, which circumstances are more prone for development of brutal genres: Florida in 1980 with crime rate at an all-time high since the 60’s (1), or Denmark in 2017, the second happiest country in the world (2). Which sociocultural circumstances could possibly keep death metal alive in Aarhus and Copenhagen? Let’s move forward and see if we can try and figure that out.
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10 years of Crocell
Back in 2007, Onkel Kusse (bass guitar), Andreas Posselt (drums), Ken Holst (guitars), Tommy Christensen (guitars) and Magnus Jørgensen (vocals) – known from such acts as Compos Mentis, Slugs, Adversary or Demolition Inc. – came together in search of a heavier direction, combining the dynamics of black and death metal while retaining both the brutal and the melodic components in their sound. The musicians are naming a rather broad spectrum of stylistic influences ranging from Primordial to Metallica to Darkthrone and the black metal scene in the 90’s. However, those influences are not to be taken too literally. From a listener’s perspective, what Crocell appears to have in common with aforementioned outfits is perhaps the sense of epicness and the sort of assurance which can only stem from a highly advanced level of musicianship.
Since the formation, Crocell have been consistent with album releases, which signify both the evolution and the cohesion of their significant sound. Take, for example, the title tracks from The Wretched Eidola (2011), Come Forth Plague (2013) and Prophet’s Breath (2015), which contain the range of features quality Nordic melodic death metal must possess: powerful dynamics between violent outbursts and epic anthemic sections, overarched by dark, yet glorious atmosphere of impending doom. The latter is somewhat present in the lyrics as well, which, according to the musicians, metaphorically criticize stiff frameworks of thought, societal conventions as well as the common ideology of the IKEA-ified masses in general. Rasmus put it this way:
I asked myself the question on my way out here today: why do I actually play this kind of music? I can only, of course, speak for myself, but if I was perfectly ok with everything around me, I actually don’t think I would be playing this kind of music.
For Tommy and Andreas heavy music is more about dealing with and expressing emotions in an extremely direct, nearly primordial manner. This gave me some ideas about the question I was asking myself at the beginning. Surely, the time, location and social circumstances are entirely different now and here, in Denmark, and back then, where the genre was initiated. But what connects the dots in space in time is going against the standards of society and questioning what’s out there in our surroundings. This is a simplified approach, of course; a lot of other factors are in action, such as simply the love for a specific type of sound. However, it must be more than that keeping a certain sound and attitude alive throughout decades.
And so it happens that teachers, data analysts, healthcare workers, scenographers, and green peace activists saving blue whales see the ultimate purpose in playing death metal (those are actual jobs of Crocell members). People who add their share to the society in best ways possible, the best being, of course, death metal.
Still listening to Prophet’s Breath? Just checking.
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The latest Crocell’s record, band’s first release with the guitarist Rasmus Henriksen (Seed Of Heresy, Panzerchrist, Die) is a solid work throughout. The album opens up with grandiose, multi layered wall of blast beats in Tyrant of iron, supported by a solid bass line, crushing riffs and demanding Asbjørn’s vocals, seamlessly interchanging between deep growling and screaming. The melody is there, yet no simplistic ambients or sentimental hooks are to be found in this album. In other words, it’s melodic in the best way possible for death metal, taking on a journey through varying degrees of intensity and changes of sonic character. Prophet’s Breath is crushing, violent and insanely uplifting at the same time.
Taking a break in Dead man’s poem, the second half of the album pitches in with Kingdom of Corruption: down-tempo, heavy, vast, brutal and harmonious. Also, take a moment to fully appreciate the final track, Temple of grandeur. The title simply says it all. If you’re not there yet, keep listening while gazing at the artwork, painted by Odin Roar Uldall. That is a real cliff hanger while awaiting Crocell’s 5th album, which is expected to be released next year. The guys said it’s going to be louder, faster, yet still melodic. Expectations are surely high.
Slowly we rot… at least we have death metal
Now, more than 30 years later, it’s not easy to grasp the immense impact the genre had at the time for the ones who did not get to witness the very emergence and explosion of it. Watching Obituary’s Slowly We Rot at the end of the 80’s on Youtube is like licking ice cream through glass. Many of us were basically born into the pool of all-inclusive online music resources, so we are used to having seemingly all the freedom in the world to select our own preferences. However, we are being constantly marketed into liking bland, lifeless, auto tuned, overproduced and sterilized sound coming in painfully simplistic compositions, carrying no message of significance or unedited emotion. Nevertheless, there is still quite a bunch of us who find that sort of music as nutritious to the mind as a bowl of crushed ice for breakfast. Consequently, some of us end up including some serious death metal – classical, contemporary, or both – to our playlists in 2017. We might not be too significant of a sample to top Billboard or MTV charts, yet we are definitely here. And we’re not going anywhere soon either: as proven by Spotify Insights (3), the metal genre has the most loyal following of all.
The following quote by Rasmus signifies precisely this sort of loyalty:
My purpose is to make music and play live. Why keep doing that? It’s the best thing to do in life. There is nothing like it. I can understand other people who have other things they do and are enthusiastic about and cannot live without. I can’t live without this. If I had my arms and legs chopped off, I wouldn’t want to be here anymore, because I couldn’t play heavy metal, not because I couldn’t eat. It’s the last stand in the civilized world with lots of boring people and stupid political decisions and rules, and not so much fun.
Crocell In Short:
Current line-up: Asbjørn Steffensen (vocals), Tommy Christensen (guitar), Rasmus Henriksen (guitar), Onkel K. Jensen (bass), Andreas Posselt (drums)
Label: Deepsend Records
Genre: Melodic/Blackened death metal