Album Review: CRYPT SERMON The Ruins of Fading Light
Crypt Sermon’s acclaimed 2015 debut, Out of the Garden, served up killer epic doom metal steeped in medieval imagery and a love for traditional melodic metal. On their 2019 follow-up, The Ruins of Fading Light, Crypt Sermon was not content to simply repeat the formula that made their debut successful. They re-tooled and refined their sound. The result might be the year’s top doom metal album—but only if it can still be called doom!
Even on their debut, Crypt Sermon kept one foot planted in traditional, melodic metal. Although the songs had a brooding, doomy vibe and aesthetic, the songwriting approach suggested a band that had as much love for Iron Maiden and Metal Church as for Black Sabbath and Candlemass.
On The Ruins of Fading Light, Crypt Sermon decided to double down on the traditional metal elements, even at the risk of alienating doom metal purists. The “traditional metal, but down-tuned” style of The Ruins of Fading Light puts Crypt Sermon more squarely in the “Power Doom” category than they were before. The album will hold a lot more appeal for fans of Visigoth, Argus, Cirith Ungol, and Dawnbringer than it will for fans of YOB, Pallbearer, Sleep, or Electric Wizard.
Crypt Sermon’s decision to embrace their love of traditional metal paid off, owing to the fantastic individual performances and superb songwriting.
This album’s sound is built around its guitar and vocal performances. At its most elemental level, Crypt Sermon is a guitar riff-driven band. Groove-oriented doom bands rely on bass to drive the songs forward, while guitar primarily fills space and adds heaviness with simpler, more sustained parts. This is not the case with Crypt Sermon. If you want riffs, this album has plenty: intricate, angular, classic metal riffing churned out by the guitar duo of Steve Jannson and James Lipcczynski. These riffs, though down-tuned and slowed-down at times, form the backbone of this album’s traditional metal sound.
The lead guitar is also outstanding. This album has way more shredding than Out of the Garden and much of that shredding is delivered in twin lead harmonized runs. The emphasis on technically demanding guitar solos is one of the most noticeable (and successful) changes to the band’s sound.
While the songs are riff-driven, it is vocalist Brooks Wilson who makes the sound unique. On The Ruins of Fading Light, Wilson displays an astoundingly dynamic range of styles. Whether he is crooning cleanly, booming out a chorus, harmonizing with himself, or pushing his voice to its raspy limits, he always sounds great. Indeed, Wilson’s righteous baritone vocals, simultaneously polished and vitally authentic, might be the most doom metal part of this album. His deeply emotive performance is so consistent across this album that it’s hard to pick out a standout track. But the way he bellows on “Our Reverend’s Grave” has so much staying power that the lines will reverberate in your head long after your listening session ends.
With faster tempos and increased use of double bass drumming compared to the first album, The Ruins of Fading Light called on drummer Enrique Sagarnaga to deploy substantially more chops. That being said, with so much going on with the band’s melodic voices, both members of the rhythm section–a duo rounded out by the talented Frank Chin, having found a soft landing from the dissolution of Vektor–wisely stay out of the way. Their professional performances provide a necessary foundation without overplaying or distracting the listener. The generally well-produced album’s massive drum sound merits special mention: big, natural, booming drums with an intentional overdose of reverb help give these songs a larger than life heaviness.
But ultimately the most important ingredient isn’t the production or any of the individual performances. It is the great songwriting. This album has hooks. You will wake up with the chorus to “The Ninth Templar” running through your head in the middle of the night. The album’s best track, “Christ is Dead,” straight rips with a killer 12/8 riff that almost has an Opeth-like prog metal feel, combined with brooding 4/4 doom metal verses and an anthemic 1980s style gang vocal chorus.
What is there to criticize? Not much. The band could have trimmed a bit more baby fat from this relatively lengthy album to make an even more concise and direct statement. But that’s nit-picking.
So is this still doom metal? This reviewer thinks so. Even if the tempos are up from the last album and there’s an even stronger traditional metal vibe, the attitude, aesthetic, down-tuned guitars, and brash baritone vocals combine with just enough slow parts to preserve a doom metal identity.
The most exciting thing about this album is thinking about what the future may hold for Crypt Sermon. If the band can further hone their skill at crafting memorable hooks and riffs and do so without too greatly compromising what remains of their doom metal identity, they could truly break new ground in metal and become one of the all-time greats.