The Swedish metal band The Crown have been around for 30 years, more or less. For the first eight of those years, they were known as Crown of Thorns, and made two albums under that name, The Burning and Eternal Death, but a US band with the same name threatened legal action, so they changed it to The Crown. They made two more albums, Hell is Here and Deathrace King, before swapping vocalists for the first time. Original frontman Johan Lindstrand was replaced by Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates, Disfear, and a thousand other bands for 2002’s Crowned in Terror. Lindstrand came back, though, and they made Possessed 13 in 2003 and Crowned Unholy, a re-recording/reworking of Crowned in Terror, in 2004. Then they broke up.

Four years later, the whole band reconvened as Dobermann, now with Andreas Bergh up front. He was out within a year, replaced by Jonas Stålhammar, and they said “fuck it” and went back to calling themselves The Crown. They made one album with Stålhammer — 2010’s Doomsday King — before Lindstrand rejoined in 2011. They didn’t make another album until 2015, though, and Death is Not Dead was pretty poorly received. Three years later they made a much better comeback with Cobra Speed Venom, and now the third album by the reunited Crown, Royal Destroyer, has galloped in like the skeleton warrior on its cover.

Deathrace King and Possessed 13 are really good albums in a punky, “death ‘n’ roll” style. The songs are fast and fierce, Lindstrand delivering the lyrics in a Max Cavalera-esque bark/roar as the guitarists tear up the road and the drummer maintains a breakneck pace. Crowned In Terror is OK, but Lindberg’s hoarse shriek doesn’t suit the material, honestly. The re-recordings on Crowned Unholy (in addition to new vocals, it’s got more and better bass playing) are a definite improvement.

Death is Not Dead isn’t a bad album, exactly, just unmemorable. Even at its most aggressive, Swedish death metal tends to be catchy; you can shout along with the choruses and pump your fist to the riffs. But Death is Not Dead songs like “Eternal” are uninspired chug-alongs that never seem to change gear. Even the occasional shreddy guitar solo can’t spike the energy level enough to make it worth repeated engagement.

Cobra Speed Venom is more ambitious — the first track, “Destroyed by Madness,” features violins and cellos on the intro — but, crucially, more aggressive. New drummer Henrik Axelsson drove them hard, and lead guitarist Robin Sörqvist, who’d joined in 2013, was in top form. On the single, “Iron Crown,” he busted out a riff so close to the immortal bridge from Slayer‘s “Angel of Death” that it would make any metal fan’s ears perk up. Some songs ran a little too long, especially the seven-minute closer, “The Sign of the Scythe,” but overall it was a solid 47 minutes of headbanging fury, with just enough flourishes to make the band and the songs stand out from the pack.

Royal Destroyer is The Crown in punk destroy-everything mode. The first song, “Baptized in Violence,” runs just 1:19, and it’s not an intro — it’s a full song with two verses, two choruses and a guitar solo, all delivered over a blasting D-beat rhythm. By contrast, “Let the Hammering Begin!” runs more than six minutes, but never abandons its machine-gun relentlessness. A dual guitar section at the three-minute mark is one of the album’s most thrilling moments.

A lot of the song titles on Royal Destroyer are over-the-top to the point of goofiness; metal is much more self-aware than non-fans give it credit for being. That serves as a sort of litmus test; if a title like “Motordeath,” “Glorious Hades,” “Full Metal Justice,” or “Scandinavian Satan” doesn’t make you laugh, or at least crack a smile, you’re in the wrong place. And the ferocious riffs and bludgeoning drums (periodically accented by cowbell) on the latter track will make any headbanger throw the horns in exultation. When the whole thing stops dead for a screaming, torches-in-the-air guitar solo, it only gets better.

There’s one ballad, “We Drift On”; it lives up to its title, but fortunately only drifts for a little under five minutes, and leads directly into the final track, “Beyond the Frail,” which has an Arch Enemy-esque chug, with some black metal-ish blast beats thrown in over anthemic prog-death riffing; it’s not that far from some of Enslaved‘s early, heavier moments.

The Crown have a mixed track record. They’re not great all the time. But that’s at least partly because they try things; they haven’t settled into a creative rut the way, say, Amon Amarth have. And at their best, they’ll get your heart racing, your fist pumping, and your head banging. And for most of Royal Destroyer, they’re delivering, full-strength.

Phil Freeman

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