France’s Crown have returned after getting their feet wet with Psychurgy back in 2012 to deliver a truly memorable work in Natron. These sludge/doomers have stepped up their game to include several unexpected moments, which might cause Metal Archives to change the genre tag more than just a little bit. “Serpents” feels like a bit of Godflesh meeting partway with Justin Broadrick’s other act Jesu, in the fact that thick industrial dirges seem to pound along with light melodies and a mixture of both abrasive and rather fragile vocal approaches. “The Words You Speak Are Not Your Own” at first sounds like it’s going to go in the same territory as the previous cut, but that’s until it throws everything right out the window in order to embrace more of a slightly industrial atmosphere that feels kind of like a dark wind and features a guest vocal performance by The Great Beast 666 himself. I still wonder to this day as to what Crowley would think if he had known that we used so many of his wax recorded pieces in modern music. Would he be delighted? Would he be offended? Perhaps that’s a question best left to time. In any case, it keeps him immortal, or at least his words, which I feel are the most important part of that equation. Yet before I digress any further, let us entertain “Wings Beating Over Heaven” which returns us to the harsher, more metallic landscapes in addition to a slight acoustic in order to add a little bit more flair to the experience as a whole. Natron might be extensively harsh at times, as is expressed here; but it’s definitely offset through its many textures. This brings us to the highly unforeseen “Fossils” which appears to be a darkwave experience in every sense of the word. It’s quite assured that no one was prepared for a piece like this, but bringing in massive influence from artists like David Bowie and The Cult (most notably) definitely serves to grab my attention and I honestly would not mind hearing a side-project of sorts in this vein. Does it fit Crown? Perhaps not, but it’s still a highlight for me and shows something vastly different from an act that people may have thought they had down pact by now. Yet I feel that art itself is revelatory and should constantly move in order to prevent stagnancy.
When the hotly unexpected moment in “Fossils” has reached its close, we come forth into “Apnea” which sounds much closer to the territory we encountered earlier. Industrial beats come back into the mix, followed by warm guitars and hypnotic vocal approaches. There’s still quite a bit of gravel in the mouth, but the track takes a decidedly cleaner route. It seems to me that Crown want to show the world that they’re capable of much more than what we heard from Psychurgy, even though that was a rather potent effort in itself. “Tension Of Duality” begins with masses of drone, as later beats arrive to a slightly tormented (and ever-changing) style of vocals. Some electronic distortion also can be heard in the background as well as a calming, almost feminine sounding vocal range. Extensively thick gravel pours out however, bringing in an almost death metal tone at times, right before the whole thing goes dark and switches to an atmosphere. It picks up, but remains instrumental. The final note here is “Flames” which follows the style of “Fossils” a bit. It’s definitely a tad heavier, but almost feels like atmospheric post rock with stargaze melodies (as I like to call them). It carries around an airy soundscape, which almost sounds like a love song of sorts. “Flames” has a sort of romantic, yet mysterious nature that makes it an unexpectedly beautiful way to end such an experimental and out of the box release such as this one.
Natron shows in spades, just how memorable a band can be when they’ve got the proper amount of skills, dedication and passion in their craft. You can tell from just one listen that the album exudes all of these things and then some. There’s something here that you just won’t hear anywhere else – at least not on the same album, and whatever Crown decide to dip a toe into, they perform it with absolute proficiency. Natron might make you feel a bit uncomfortable, confused or uncertain about the disc you hold within your hands… but you must simply ask yourself, “What is the true meaning of art?” and you will find that such a concept is never in a constant state, as it always heads steadfast to change and further invigorate. Crown didn’t want to make the same album again, nor did I ever want them to. It would have been awful boring to have heard the same thing explored yet again, and again and again, as I often hear with a large percentage of acts these days. But real talent leaps over and ascends boundaries, which is exactly why I highly recommend that one open their mind and experience all of the shapes and colors prevalent here. There are bands that make ordinary records every year or so and bands that make real art. Crown is a fine example of the latter and made they forever be. (Eric May)