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If a musician were to tell a fantastical story, progressive rock would be the most fitting genre, right? It’s known for its vast soundscapes and irregular song structures. Rather than the world being a band’s oyster, the universe lies at their feet. None more so than for CROWN LANDS who return with their second album Fearless.
Fearless sees CROWN LANDS return to their earlier passion for progressive rock. The duo take up their arms and travel to a soundscape for a story which isn’t too far from their own cause. Advocates for indigenous communities of Canada as well as the LGBTQ+ collective, the pair set their story in outer space, with the titular character taking a stand against the colonisation of outer space and reclaiming what was stolen.
Nothing takes a stand quite like an 18-minute opening track. It’s to be expected for progressive rock but still comes as a surprise when the eyes glance over the track list. Starlifter: Fearless Pt. II also breeds confusion due to part one of Fearless’ story being at the midpoint of the album. More on that in a moment. Pt II takes us ad astra to the soundtrack of keys spiralling into a riff taken straight from the late 70s. Blasts of chords transport us into the Wild West of the nebula – our iron horses being spaceships instead of motorbikes. With elements of T. REX littering the skies, the riffs become spattered with electronics as the first movement comes to an end. Cody Bowels takes to the microphone to enchant us with tales of the space vigilante but we feel this song was a poor choice in opener. It tests the mettle of the listener too soon and will rob them of many attention spans before the song’s end. Those who stick around are treated to a voyage through the genres, featuring a rest stop bathed in woodwind instrumentals and ethereal guitar solos from Kevin Comeay.
The problem CROWN LANDS build for themselves is how can they follow an epic? Anything which comes afterwards is going to suffer as a result. Dreamer Of The Dawn’s “twin flames awaken” to wonderful guitar work from Comeay but also to confusion. Is this “sailing through a canopy of stars” meant to transcend into the next part of the story or begin the cycle again? All music is open to interpretation but for a ‘concept album’, it seems a little too ambiguous. What isn’t however is the dark edge to The Shadow. The tracks before had given the aural impression of being bright and ethereal. Now the threat comes in and offers another dimension to the… well dimensional storytelling. However, Bowels’ vocal sits too high on the register for a song such as this. They’re a great vocalist, yet there are times where the higher pitch isn’t appropriate. As CROWN LANDS offer “the beating heart of truth” we have to follow suit, Fearless becomes an album which doesn’t engage as much as it should, which is a shame when we are only three tracks in.
Right Way Back picks up the pace with a rampant bassline and rock ’n’ roll vibe. The vocals again become a sticking point but we’re not going to go over that again. Rolling drums bubble beneath the verses while flashes of synths melt into the bass to bolster the bottom end. It’s notions like this which make Fearless an album for the musician or musically-inclined rather than a casual fan of the odd bop. Place in the tracklist aside, Context: Fearless Pt I accentuates that fact. The staggered vocal delivery in parts harks back to stadium rock of the 80s. Production value gives the impression of listening to the record through a tinny record player speaker. Fearless is a record for the audiophile. As it speeds into the meat and potatoes of matters, this track could have benefitted from being more rounded in tone, but it does the job it set out to.
Set after an eight-minute track, Reflections’ “two travellers in the night” suffer the way Dreamers Of The Dawn did before it. The shimmering guitars in the introduction please the ears while the midpoint solo is joyous to listen to. But that’s all we can say about it. At this point there is nothing about this album which warrants a second listen – at least from us. Even the acoustic instrumental Penny repeats on itself and doesn’t take advantage of its indulgent four-minute runtime. That’s the best word for this album; indulgent.
By time we get to the closing tandem of the record, Lady Of The Lake and Citadel, the endurance has been pushed beyond its limit. The former’s murky guitars are dredged from the titular lake but there is little consequence of that action. Closer Citadel is meant to be an imposing structure with piano melodies ruling the roost. However this power ballad blooms a touch too early, allowing CROWN LANDS very little room to progress the track further, and in turn leaving Fearless to ride off with a sputtering engine rather than firing on all pistons.
Fearless sets out to do great things for a noble cause, but the characters’ motivations and actions lose their way among deceivingly large soundscapes. This makes the album somewhat disappointing. While hitting the mark for many, it will miss it completely for others. In this case, it feels alienating and lost in space. We applaud CROWN LANDS for their story-telling ambitions and abilities but this is one odyssey we won’t be embarking on again.
Fearless is out now via Spinefarm Records/Universal Music Canada.
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The post ALBUM REVIEW: Fearless – Crown Lands appeared first on Distorted Sound Magazine.