October 14th, 2014
Release length: 31:24
First of all, the audio quality of In the Hands of the Betrayer is something worth taking note of. While not an entirely raw recording, this release does manage to capture the intimate emptiness commonly associated with Doom Metal recordings of the eighties into the mid-nineties. A vacant backdrop causes the instruments and vocals to resonate as if distant and echoing against unseen walls, bringing in a sense of occult rituals or demon worship stereotypically associated to Metal at its infancy. But that’s not all it manages to accomplish. In the Hands of the Betrayer also starts off with a warm, foggy atmosphere, as if standing in a cemetery in the middle of a summer’s night, while the latter songs have a colder environment so natural it can chill the listener to the core. And, really, with the obvious influence of genre pioneering bands like Black Sabbath, Pentagram, and many others, this sort of darker tone works perfectly with these five songs.
“A Perfectly Realized Torment” has a nice chill in the air right from the start, plodding along as if to one’s own demise with church organs only deepening the struggle. About a minute in, the sensation breaks for some of the aforementioned Black Sabbath style delirium and hints of mysticism, both amplified by the heavily echoed vocals and well timed bouts of emptiness or grander hooks of misery to pack on additional emotion. Even the guitar solo is enough to grab hold and never let go, as if something out of a grim, vice induced delusion. It’s a huge departure from “In the Hands of the Betrayer”, which has plenty of energetic bouts. There are slower moving sections like the song’s chorus, but these are fairly limited, which is a shame really. While the faster material is full of melodic hooks that you won’t argue against, the tone they carry just doesn’t match the powerful atmosphere the other track has.
And then there’s “To Thee I Give an Orchid”. “Approaching, Encroaching Storm” sets this experience up quite well through burdening synths and a deep, ominous voice against a storm that continues to grow louder as it comes closer. The nightmarish mental imagery fades before shifting tracks and introducing funeral grade organs that sets up one hell of a depressing environment that the slow chords play off of perfectly. The main verses thin things out slightly, right down to distant, hollowed vocals that sound otherworldly, but none of this takes away from the subtle epic tone and moody My Dying Bride leads.
And then there’s that one major influence which cannot be denied on this release: Candlemass. There’s even a cover of their song “Crystal Ball” present on this effort. The Ronnie James Dio style vocal approach lends a subtle level of grandiose intent to the down to earth interpretation that can tread into epic territory at times, mostly during certain bridges and solos. The additional crystal-like gothic organ effect on the keyboards also adds a nice dynamic to this version, enriching the mood more than the other instruments ever could have taken it.
In the Hands of the Betrayer starts off a bit rocky with the title track, but once you get through the album once or twice and become familiar with what the band is attempting, you’ll immediately acknowledge that they pulled it off. Northern Crown pays homage to the pioneers of one of the oldest living forms of Metal without blatantly ripping them off. And, really, that’s one of the things this genre has going for it. The sense of individuality within the groups is often quite high, even when building it’s own signature off the foundations of legends. In the Hands of the Betrayer, as a whole, speaks to that individuality through performances of infectious hooks, melancholy, and loneliness, though the latter two of those is really where this band shines through. Fans of Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio, and Candlemass should be on high alert. Northern Crown is their spiritual love child, and it’s debut outing is as beautiful as it is grim and disparaging.
01. In the Hands of the Betrayer – 4:28
02. A Perfectly Realized Torment – 7:30
03. Crystal Ball (Candlemass cover) – 5:31
04. Approaching, Encroaching Storm – 2:40
05. To Thee I Give an Orchid – 11:17
|Initial Pressing Score: 8.5/10
via Clawhammer PR.