If I told you that The Black Tower made me think of mid-90’s Darkthrone, Blind Guardian, and viking-era Bathory all within one song, you’d either be a) highly interested or b) very worried. Well, if you fall in to the later category, don’t be. The second album from Sons Of Crom is a masterful piece of epic heavy metal, that draws from a wide variety of influences to create something that is incredibly confident and powerful. It is also possessed of a singular vision, an undeniable sense of purpose and conviction that keeps the album focused, bringing together those multiple influences in to something far greater than the sum of their parts. It’s not often a (relatively) traditional metal album wins me over, but The Black Tower has done just that, and I highly recommend it.
Once the semi-symphonic introductory track ‘Steps Of Doom’ is done, the album begins proper with its most eclectic track. ‘In Fire Reborn’ packs in furious second-wave black metal, power metal-esque grandiosity, and early viking metal grit and strength all within its opening two minutes. It is a bold, challenging way to begin an album, but Sons Of Crom pull it off with style and conviction. From there, The Black Tower never looks back, moving through genres and styles with scant regard for convention – whilst there’s an undeniably retro feel to the album (especially the production), there’s also quite a progressive mind-set at play here, and a lot of talent to write songs that are both varied, yet flow so naturally and consistently.
Part of this is tied in with the narrative of The Black Tower. In true classic heavy metal fashion, this is an album rather than a simple collection of songs – and also in true classic metal style, the album is steadfast in its commitment to the fantasy narrative it weaves. It may hardly be original in the tale it tells, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t add anything to the album, especially in the way the shifting mood and tone of the music is as important to the lyrics in telling the tale. Sixth track ‘Summoning The Starborn’ is a prime example of this, with its shift in to furious black metal territories around the five minute mark, and the triumphant, Blind Guardian-esque guitar melody that runs throughout the song, telling as much of the story as the lyrics do. Likewise, the soaring guitar lead in the later half of ‘Viimeinen Laki’ is emotive, and carries the narrative forward without the need for words; as does the more melancholic tone the song adopts later, especially when it is joined by folk instruments that greatly enhance this mood..
There are a few small points that hold The Black Tower back from true greatness, though. Most notably, the vocals sometimes fall ever-so slightly short of the high notes they strain to reach (amusingly, this is one of the things that makes the album recall Bathory’s viking trilogy of albums). But, that issue never stopped Quorthon achieving greatness, and nor does it hold Sons Of Crom back to any real extent. The conviction of the vocals and music more than makes up for any slightly shortfalls such as this, and the sense of energy and excitement that The Black Tower consistently conjures is hard to deny. It is a prime example of how heavy metal still has a lot to offer even after so long, and demonstrates that Sons Of Crom are one of the metal underground’s most exciting bands.