Depending upon her presentation the draw of a queen of swords can represent an flawless, Athena-esque goddess who’d shine virtue down upon the troubled like a mother in waiting that’d suggest the bestowed is a biting and engaged virtuous wit. Presented in the inverted position she presents as vengeful stupidity, a brazen idiot stuck in the past that’d not only never learn from it but drag others down into her pit of childish gossip and rueful mental gymnastics. That an armed woman would symbolize both ultimate rationalism and emotional intuition in good times and a scatter-brained emotional wreck in bad times might point to the awkward aging of tarot interpretation but the balance is intended to be uncannily general and each draw of the card is meant as a lesson more than a ‘fortune’ that any gawking parlor-filling idiot might expect. The ‘luck’ of the draw can be a powerful lesson for those who ascribe to pure duality in life that bad and good come at once and in every case and that black and white do not exist in nature without grayness. So grayed are the edges of this fine debut from Stuttgart, Germany based doom metal act Crestfallen Queen who blur the worlds of occult rock and progressive doom metal together on ‘Queen of Swords’, offering a strangely welcoming piece of benevolent, spiteful, and altogether beautiful doom along the way.
As unforgettable as the ‘No More Let Life Divide What Death Can Join Together’ demo from Crestfallen Queen was back in 2017 it was frankly forgotten by the time 2019 and this full-length had rolled around and I don’t think most folks would blame me for not completely recognizing the bands well-developed sound in the two years since. As with Smoulder earlier this year I’d initially felt some longing for the more direct and heavier doom metal leanings of their demo recording but, in both cases their full-length was a much better (and more original) final product. ‘Queen of Swords’ is an interesting prospect because it almost appears deliberate in its skating away from the many cliches that would be quite obvious in an album the combines occult rock, progressive/folk rock, and traditional doom metal that often verges on epic heavy metal in forming their sound.
There is a semblance of Cauchemar‘s more recent ‘epic’ efforts (‘Chapelle Ardente’ especially) in the cadence of ‘Queen of Swords’ as a whole but there are moments that’d feel comfortable on any recent Castle or The Ossuary records that saw each squeezing in a more driving traditional heavy metal style into their doom-rocked sound. Doomstress have done something similar on their most recent record, ‘Sleep Among the Dead’, but from the perspective of combining similar occult rock elements with stoner doom rather than the almost proto-metallic/epic heavy place that makes Crestfallen Queen so difficult to compare with their peers. The ‘progressive doom rock’ tag really does begin to sink in as ‘Queen of Swords’ becomes more familiar a listen as each of the four 8-9 minute tracks that form the whole offer their own mace-swinging, poison-knifing, ode to the way of the warrior, the bard, and the inner piety that’d drive both to ruin.
Growls, bellows, snarls and listless epic heavy apropos wailing each have their moment on the mystifying title track that introduces the album. Some sort of magic happens in the second half of the track as the five minute mark brings a bout of chaos and guitar-wrangling that signals this incredible rhythmic moment, a cosmic bridge to another dimension straight out of the most reverent psychedelic rock playbook with a chiming lead and a glistening progression strummed over its intensity. At some point a total of four guitars have been introduced into this ‘moment’ and there I was truly compelled to see how Crestfallen Queen would manage to top that transcendental rhythmic push. “Eurydice’s Lullaby” does absolutely find a nice driving stoner rock ‘sweet spot’ after a very long build but some post-blackened guitar work and vocal experimentation amount to very little beyond that compelling middle drive. My apologies for the track-by-track but “Ghost Warriors” is the delivery upon the promise of the title track as its “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” riffing develops so beautifully I was floored upon discovering it. At this point I did feel like crossing wires between occult rock (old and new) with traditional doom metal -does- end up resembling stoner metal in many cases but this is something entirely beyond that realm thanks to the vocalist’s (her name is just E.) serious tone and the spacious reverberation of the recording. The dynamic ‘epic’ stature of the piece culminates with a fiddly wah-pedal solo and a heavy refrain complete with some deeper growls that segues into an impossible to predict folk rock section, a gorgeous moment that’d make Blood Ceremony blush, that ends alternating with a driving NWOBHM-esque refrain. I think here the value of the record is present and accounted for even if just in the ~18 minutes of tracks two and four, and the repeatability of the experience will hinge on how successful the interludes and other two (comparably standard) main pieces are for your own taste.
Because so much of this eclectic sub-40 minute doom metal album hinges on the resonance and entertainment value of its four major pieces there is a sort of pass/fail system built into its arrangement. If any one (or two) pieces don’t strike your fancy it’ll manifest as an average-at-best experience. For my own taste Crestfallen Queen did everything they could to make a memorable, if not slightly inconsistent, record that never goes too over the top for a debut full-length. In this sense it was daring in style but safe in execution and I think that is a smart place to begin when introducing the concept of a project. The title track and “Ghost Warriors” were certain standouts but the additional strength of the relatively simple doom-built track “Lethean Bed” helped push the scales above average from my perspective. As such I can give moderately high recommendation of this debut from Crestfallen Queen. Though the preview tracks I’d recommend should be obvious at this point absolutely don’t pass on this album until you’ve heard both “Ghost Warriors” and “Queen of Swords” in full.
Peerless gravitas, the armed Goddess. 3.75/5.0
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