Rooted renewal - A review of Crematory's ''Monument''
Crematory had gone through some significant changes before the release of thirteenth studio record that also marked the band's twenty-fifth anniversary. Lead guitarist and clean vocalist Mathias Hechler had left and had been replaced by two new musicians in form of lead guitarist Rolf Munkes and rhythm guitarist and clean vocalist Tosse Basler last autumn. Just after the recording of this album earlier this year, bassist Harald Heine also left and was replaced by Jason Mathias. What kind of impact do these changes have on Crematory's signature gothic metal sound?
I would describe this release as a satisfying mixture of old and new sounds. The band's sound hasn't changed that much. It still focuses on rather short tracks with rhythmic keyboard sounds, simple yet powerful industrial rock and metal riffs and a mixture of sixty percent growls and forty percent clean vocals performing one third German and two thirds English lyrics. The guitar sounds have become more powerful than on the last record and the keyboard patterns are more diversified and always cleverly employed to add some atmospheric depth to the different tracks. The clean vocals add a new tone to the sound but have a familiar longing and melancholic touch. From time to time both vocalists experiment a little bit and include a few creepier whispered or spoken vocal parts. Overall, this album absolutely sounds like Crematory but a refreshingly revamped version of it. The song writing is consistent enough to make this the band's best output since the eerie ''Pray'' eight years earlier and I can't find any stinkers here. The clean vocals in ''Nothing'' somehow remind me of a complaining grandmother and sound unintentionally amusing and the predictable and plodding closing ballad ''Save Me'' fails to grab my intention but even these tunes are still slightly above filler level since they sound unlike any other track on the album.
The first two songs are among the group's most sinister songs ever. Opener ''Misunderstood'' almost exclusively features harsh vocals and includes some of the band's heaviest and fastest riffs in recent memory. The overture and the chorus still feature some keyboard sounds that add some more harmonious melodies to the raw opener. ''Haus mit Garten'' has a dark and eerie atmosphere that is underlined by lethargic guitar melodies, cold synthesizer samples and a solid mixture of raw growls and spoken and whispered vocals that slightly remind me of the controversial German extreme metal band Eisregen. The chugging breakdown adds to the lifeless tone and works perfectly in the context of the track. This is easily one of Crematory's gloomiest tunes ever and even the depressive lyrics add to this.
The next two tracks perfectly represent the band's more melodic side. ''Die So Soon'' starts with disturbing vocal samples but turns out to be a much more harmonious song and is maybe the record's most obvious hit recalling classic anthems like ''The Fallen'' and ''Left the Ground''. The catchy track is dominated by hypnotizing keyboard sounds and clean vocals leading to a passionate outburst in the chorus. For the very first time, the melodic guitar solo shows the new musical possibilities for the band with two new guitarists that are not yet efficiently exploited. This track should become a fan favorite during live shows. ''Ravens Calling'' is an epic gothic rock track dominated by a darker timbre of clean vocals which sound unusually accessible for Crematory. This song recalls bands such as End of Green and The 69 Eyes. This track will probably be the most polarizing on the entire album as some fans will adore the new creativity while other might miss the band's signature sound.
Most of the other songs on the record are in between the sinister and mellow extremes. An exception might be ''Falsche Tränen'' that heads into Neue Deutsche Härte territories both musically and lyrically. The industrial rock riffs are straight, the marching rhythm section isquite tight, the keyboard sounds are gloomy yet danceable and the chorus is quite addicting. If the track didn't include a few growls, this could also be an Eisbrecher tune. On the other side, the much more melodic and softer synth rock tune ''Everything'' almost reminds of contemporary Apoptygma Berzerk and the likes. Once again it's only the signature growls in the chorus that keep this tune inside Crematory's usual territory. On each song, Crematory manages to sound a little bit different and more exciting than usual but each track is still keeping some of the band's authentic signature sounds.
In the end, Crematory finds a healthy balance between traditional signature sounds and a few new ideas that should be pushed further on upcoming releases to build upon this timid renewal. This is a welcome occasion for a much needed change since the band tried in vain to revisit its former efforts on the last two studio outputs that turned out to sound mostly uninspired. ''Monument'' should please to most of Crematory's fans and even rekindle interest from those who have been disappointed by the band's last couple of records. On the other side, this record isn't revolutionary enough to expand the band's faithful yet limited gothic rock and metal fan base. Those who despised the band before will continue to do so and those who adored them won't turn their backs on them because of the line-up changes. Simply stated, the band got a much needed revamp without denying its roots.
Final verdict: 80%« Concert review of Dream Theater at Bell Centre in MontrealMuch more than a simple compilation - A review of Saber Tiger's ''The Best Of'' »
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