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The Crest - Vain City...

The Crest -  CD Review
Vain City Chronicles

CD Info
Label: Season of Mist
11 Tracks
Language: English

Norwegian band The Crest failed to impress me with their first effort, 2002’s Letters From Fire. Of course I’m sure impressing me wasn’t their singular goal in life, but their label Season of Mist seemed eager to garner fans for the band, calling them a “dark rock armada” that brought “a new meaning to melody and beauty.“ Well no, they were not, and no, they didn’t. Not that the album was necessarily without any merit at all -- there were one or two interesting songs, and a lovely voice to sing them. However, that’s about as far as it went; the music was by and large unmoving, and the CD was destined to sit in the cd rack and gather dust. And so I wasted no more time on it, mentally filing The Crest away under the “not much to look forward to” category.

I must say, though, that it’s nice to be surprised, and even nice to be proven wrong sometimes, which is where I find myself now, for it seems there was something to look forward to after all. The Crest has brought forth a new album seemingly designed to slap that earlier cynicism right out of me. Vain City Chronicles is a huge step forward for the band, showing some remarkable progress in just a few short years. My first listen was quite a surprising experience, and enough to make me evaluate the band in a new light. Now, finally, Season of Mist’s earlier pompous description is actually justified to some degree.

Looking more closely at this band has brought me a bit of knowledge that I was formerly oblivious to: the vocalist, Nell, is the new singer for Theatre of Tragedy after Liv’s departure. This seems appropriate, as she is somewhat similar to Liv in vocal quality, although slightly deeper and perhaps a bit less fragile sounding. I haven’t really kept up with ToT after the Musique album (and who could blame me?), but judging by Nell’s performance here, she will be a suitable successor, so it may be interesting to see what they do with her talent. Whatever happens there, I hope Nell continues her work with The Crest, for if they stay on the same progress curve the next album should be fantastic (and if it’s not I will be…. uhhh….. crestfallen….. hey, stop that booing).

What we have with Vain City Chronicles is a murky, film noir-ish type of music. Just look at the cover, that’s what this is like, if you get my drift. It’s dark and shadowy music, but at the same time it’s a polished and stylized form of darkness that strikes me as the perfect soundtrack for a movie based on some sinister comic book or dark graphic novel. While the general mood is quite melancholy and somber, to be sure, it seems less like a personal journey into despair, and more like simply an artistic expression of the darker side of life. This music isn’t going to depress you; on the contrary, for all its dark qualities it’s very upbeat and energetic. It’s positive negativity. It’s like some weird hybrid of Tapping the Vein and, say, Gretchen. Several of these songs are so damn catchy it just may require neurosurgery to remove them from my brain (not that I’d want to though). I challenge pop music to come up with a catchier tune than Flavour of the Day! Other hook-heavy songs include Run Like Blazes, Imaginary Friend, and House of Mirrors. Several songs take a slower and more ominous approach, such as Come On Down, Reptile (which sounds to me like Flowing Tears), and the elegantly spooky New Profound Fear (this being one of my favorites). At the end of the album we are treated to My War/Broken Glass, a beautifully rendered acoustic reworking of one of the earlier songs which is a perfect closing to this musical journey. And what kind of journey is it? Well you won’t hear any songs about vampires or odes to death, if that’s where you thought I was heading. The content revolves around common concerns of the “human condition” -- love, loss, longing, hope and hopelessness -- but in a gloomy and slightly twisted way. Lyrics sometimes walk that thin line between madness and genius (consider: “a bloodstained rubber duck, I really shouldn’t swim these waters”). What I mean is, if you take some lines out and examine them too closely they may seem silly, but within the context of the music they seem brilliant, which I always think is a neat trick.

As for the mechanical aspects, the album is largely defined by the stringed instruments, both guitars and violin. The bass is especially important and provides a solid and vibrant underpinning. In fact I’d say the bass shapes the music and makes a bigger impression than the lead guitar (very good in its own right), which is unusual but I like it. The violin is also used to outstanding effect. You won’t hear any violin solos or other overt flashiness, but rather it is woven deeply into the musical structure and acts as a well-placed accent. This is done extremely well, since it adds a lot of style to the music without stealing too much attention from everything else. Add good production to all this, and everything gels nicely.

This will be one of the bright spots in 2005 for sure.