The Crown have been igniting fiery, blasphemous riffs for 20+ years. Adhering to the rebellious spirit of rock ’n’ roll, The Crown start with savage death metal and add nods of first wave black metal to ensnare eardrums of dedicated fans globally. The band has consistently released records every few years since 1995. 2021 sees Royal Destroyer released on Metal Blade, a brilliant follow up to 2018’s Cobra Speed Venom. I spoke with Marko Tervonen during an atypical Sweden winter in Mid-January on a Skype call.
“We haven’t had snow at all until a week ago,” Tervonen confesses. “We usually get it in October and November. I don’t know who is to blame, but I have only shoveled once.”
The obvious initial question is how Tervonen and The Crown dealt with the pandemic.
“The only thing COVID has done is help our album. We were scheduled to record our album in May. The shit hit the fan somewhere around February. It became a mess. We had to postpone recording. We had to stop rehearsing for many months.” Tervonen pauses. “But actually, during that time, we were sitting at home, thinking about the album; thinking ‘is it good enough? Should we do something different? Should we change something?’. But, in the end, some really important ideas came up. So, during that little break, we removed two songs and added two completely new ones. They made the album better. Thank you, COVID. That’s the only good thing you ever did.”
The impulse birthed some friction and intense discussions within the band. But ultimately, the two tracks add a fresh and relevant representation of The Crown.
“Those two songs that we added differ from the other stuff. We added the really slow song, ‘We Drift On’ and the last song, ‘Beyond the Frail’; from my view, one of the stronger songs. They really differ from the meat and potatoes Crown stuff – which should always be a part of [our albums]. In the end, we created a more varied album. Which, I believe, made it a better album. If you have followed us for years, you know we basically, on every album, we try to do something different. I would hate to do a Crown album from a template or recipe. I want to have an open mind and create a new feel to it.”
Avoiding a template is difficult for bands tethered to hyper-specific genres. Especially in a finicky genre where fans are quick to adhere hyphenated superlatives and define their allegiance strictly. Seriously, there are subscribers to “brutal” death metal. As opposed to…? But with the resurgence of “Old School Death Metal”, OSDM, which is … death metal; for The Crown to stand out but not alienate is the albatross of any subculture musician. (Punk, Oi!, Boom Bap hip hop are all equally stern in their allowances of deviations.) Add that mindset to a band that has unleashed 11 dominant albums since 1995 and been in existence for technically 30 years (starting their first eight years as Crown of Thorns), and you have to trust their decisions.
Addressing these confines, Tervonen agrees.
“It is difficult. And gets more difficult the more albums you make. There are typical songs we can do. But we try to give them an edge. I enjoy approaching it with an open mind attitude. I think it all started with the Hell is Here album when we started including stuff from the rock ‘n’ roll world and punk. That was the first, important step. Then we said, ‘let’s go all over the place’. Then, you get Deathrace (2000’s Deathrace King) and this heavy song, ‘Dead Man’s Song’. It was never a question of if it should be on the album. I like that. Actually, it would be easier for me if we would decide on a recipe for an album. But it would not become better.”
The conversation returns to the trappings of genres demanding adherence to rules and sonic parameters. Terbonen relishes his band’s decisions to infuse rock ‘n’ roll and powerful d-beat punk rock.
“That’s an interesting thought. For many bands, it helps a lot to have a clear image or style after [they get to] album number five or six because people are so used to knowing what to expect from that band. Commercially for The Crown, that might be a negative thing. You can’t pinpoint us as your typical thrash band or your typical death metal band. We are a bit all over the place. But for us, creatively, and what we want to achieve with albums, this is perfect.” Tervonen adds “In the end, I want to sleep well at night and know I stayed honest.”
Royal Destroyer crashes thrashy death metal into punk driven leather clad anthems, resulting in a death ‘n’ roll banger. Like the forefathers, Entombed, later Dismember, the maligned-then-respected two later Carcass releases, a band can get panned initially but time shows the attitude and instrumentations of said genres meld nicely and age particularly well. Check The Crown on their albums; Hell is Here’s “Electric Night” or Deathrace King’s “Blitzkrieg Witchcraft” (even the mid-song cowbell…) for the band’s stunning examples of unabashed adoration of all extreme metal subdivisions. Royal Destroyer harvests elements of Slayer, Sodom, Kreator, Hirax, Whiplash; first wave of black metal like Venom, Hellhammer, and Bathory and, of course, The Crown still absolutely bathe in the cornerstone of their birth country’s melodeath history. Death metal will always be the pith and focus of The Crown.
Witness the opener, “Let the Hammering Begin!” for relentless speed and vicious riffs. Noted as an homage to Slayer’s Jeff Henneman, the six minutes of brash punishment centered around Henrik Axelson’s malicious drumming. So tight. “Hammering”, indeed. For fans, the song is also a glorious reuniting with Johan Lindstrand’s voracious growling. His vocals are commanding, exhibiting depth and power. “Motordeath” follows with four minutes of, as the title would imply, that death n roll scorching sound. But The Crown accomplishes this at double the pace of any comparisons made earlier. “Ultra Faust” has an intro of a mid-tempo groove but explodes with pounding drums and squealing leads. Another six minute rager with a belligerent breakdown at 3:30. But the speed returns pushing under Lindstrand’s deep growls. “Glorious Hades” opens with chilling Nordic winds blowing. We get a slight breath of relief as a churning groove escorts the listener. This is a statement, a bed of instruments that elevates with broad strokes a la Enslaved.
As far as the title of the album, Royal Destroyer ties in multiple themes and ideas. Tervonen explains that bassist, Magnus Olsfelt “has named all of our albums and always has great fucking ideas. He likes to create a title first and then approach with that feeling.
“We tried to come up with something that sums up the album. We don’t usually do concept albums or themes, because we have different writers in the band, [yielding] different vibes. But “royal” links to our band and our name and “destroyer” is just such a fantastic American word. Plus, the album has blue and yellow in it like the Swedish flag and Sweden is still a monarchy.
“We all have seen a warrior on a horse a hundred times,” laughs Tervonen. “But, we wanted [an] over-the-top, epic feel.”
And that epic impression is fully realized when ordered on vinyl.
“The cover is only 50% of the image and be full when you open on a gatefold album.” Christian Sloan Hall, who also did the art for Cobra Speed Venom was down to rejoin. The Crown decided, “Let’s take this to 11 and go with it.”
Side B commences with blazing rhythms and riffs. “Full Metal Justice” flashes classic crown with an incendiary atmosphere; unrelenting for three full minutes. “Scandanavian Satan” repeats the process, but heralding a break with the monstrous riff, a scorching lead, n accenting cowbell. Complete chaos unfolds and Lindstrand mental collapse at the end is perfectly vocalized. Royal Destroyer lashes and thrashes; pummeling and punishing. A more grinding riff is present on “Devoid of Light,” twisting and disabling. This trio of these three-minute bombastic tracks are the glory of the record. Which bring the listener to that ‘slow’ song, “We Drift On.”
Continuing the experimental stride, Tervonen states: “There are a lot of those type of albums; that were really criticized and then, ten years later, ‘oh shit. they were ahead of their time. It all makes sense.’”
In that vein, Tervonen adds: “We had one song on this album which we discussed a lot. That really slow song on this album, ‘We Drift On’. Someone in the band said we cannot have it on the album [because] it’s too far away but I really wanted to go there. It’s 2021. People that know about us know we can play brutal. We can’t surprise them with brutal. ‘We Drift On’ will be the next single and I’m so prepared for a shitstorm. But I pleaded with the band ‘please let’s have it be the second single. Everyone will hate us, but I promise in ten years people will understand it.’ I know it’s a good song.”
“You can never predict what people will like. That’s why I think those recipes are useless. If I would start to write what I think people would like, I am so sure I would fail. It would not have that edge to it. You need to try to stay honest with yourself and hopefully people will dig it.”
Imagine if Napalm Death thought that in 2020. Entombed thought that before Wolverine Blues and Carcass just quit before releasing Heartwork or even Swan Song; never to get praise 20 years later although they were derided upon release.
2020, COVID strikes and dismantles the touring options, and in the age of digital streaming, merch is revenue. Shows are revenue. But despite having the output of a band which relies on the album/touring cycle, The Crown is stable and situated without the revenue. For them, the propulsion and motivation is strictly for the emotional reward.
“We’re one of those lucky bands that this doesn’t hit us financially hard. Ever since we came back to the scene, after we had many years of a break [2005 – 2009] to get our normal lives in order. We all have day jobs. We want The Crown to be part of our lives because we love what we do with albums and shows. But, in this hardcore death metal business, we shouldn’t fool ourselves us that this can be our career that we are relying on. For us, what hurts us is that we can’t reach out to people.”
As opposed to when The Crown began this frenzied and staggering journey, there is one new variable that can help a band even in a climate of fear and restrictions.
“The internet. It’s all about getting creative and coming up with something to reach out to people. As you know, a lot of bands are doing live shows [which] they stream. And I like to connect with people. I’m a pretty social guy.”
This is an understatement. Talking with Tervonen, it’s apparent in his boisterous and jovial demeanor, accented by laughs and vivid stories. This is also displayed in the many videos which he has done: interviews, instructionals, etc.
“I think I have done about 20 or 30 of those ‘guitar played to…’ things. I try to tell a little story first and then I play a song, show the people that give a shit how it’s played. I like that interaction. That’s the beautiful thing about the internet, it is not just a one-way communication. You can really interact with people. Have a conversation in a cool way.”
“It’s never bothered me when people approach me. I like that.” Tervonen jests. “As long as they are halfway sane people.”
Tervonen reminisces about pre-COVID and The Crown’s recent touring.
“We got to play in a couple of new countries, Russia and Croatia as well. We never set our foot there [previously]. We have been around forever. It was amazing and people have been waiting to see us and meet us for 20 years. Some guy told us he took a train that took 30 hours.”
Tervonen and the boys relished in the rewarding experiences.
“They come there, and they have a pile of pictures and fanzines and magazines to get signed. Or they tell old stories how they first heard The Crown. They were with their friends and had a few beers, listening to the early stuff and that’s so beautiful. Obviously, you can’t get to that level with the streaming stuff. I would be so happy if there is a cool idea of a new platform by Metal Blade or whatever, I will be there. I’ll be first in line.”
But now, in 2021, he admits: “The whole playing live thing, that is very difficult to plan. You get new restrictions and changes every day. I see metal colleagues book and plan stuff and then have to cancel. That’s so terrible. If the festivals open this year, the bands that will play will be the ones who got cancelled last year. 2021 is going to be a challenge to reach out to people. You need to get creative.”
With 2020 in the rear view, saddled with uncertainty, Tervonen’s focus shifts quickly to the rest of the world and the impact of the recent past.
“Globally, what stressed everybody, this was a new thing and you couldn’t get straight answers. And how does it spread? And what actually happens if you catch it? And every country had a different approach how to handle this. What do you do? Where can you catch it? Can you catch it from food? How the hell do you get it?”
Sympathetic and insightful, Tervonen says the “super scary stuff is that you can’t predict how its going to hit you. Some people even though they’re super athletes, they fucking die from it.”
That chaos and doubt and fear and skepticism is echoed in the blistering and frantic riffs of Tervonen’s. blasting throughout Royal Destroyer. The substance of the record is that apprehension manifesting across his fretboards.
Personally, Tervonen coped just fine.
“Luckily for me, I have a studio from home. I mix stuff for other bands. There is a way for me to do a lot of stuff from my normal day job. I already work from home a lot. And, then, of course, you have Netflix,” he laughs. “I think we have all globally over-watched Netflix. The stressful part is the unknown; you hear someone cough and you wonder if they will turn into a zombie apocalypse. And then you have the fucking morons who don’t trust science. That stuff scares me. I know I can keep distance and wear a mask. I am more concerned with other people’s commitment to it.”
Pick up a copy here.