The last time French black/death metal merchants Svart Crown explored the terrible corners of the world with their third full-length Profane, end-time things were happening. A meteor—the most powerful to hit our blue marble in 100 years—blazed across the South Ural sky; North Korea irradiated more of its homeland with yet another underground nuclear test; Pope Benedict XVI resigned, the first to do so since 1415; the Philippines was decimated by Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest cyclone on record; and nearly 1,500 Syrians were gassed to death by their own government in Ghouta. What does all this adversity and strife have to do with Svart Crown? Very little, but the inhuman events are a reflection of humanity’s sick predisposition to revel wholeheartedly in death, destruction, and tragedy. Profane, if we’re being fair, could very well have been the soundtrack to the loathsome Year of the Snake. After all guitarist/vocalist Jean-Baptiste Le Bail labels Svart Crown’s hyper-speed tumult as, “primal, abrasive, cathartic, pessimist, and decidedly evil.”
Now that four years—and more horrendous, almost unmentionable things—have passed, what have Nice-based Svart Crown been up to? To start with, the Frenchman lost drummer Nico Muller and guitarist Clément Flandrois to attrition. Their replacements—both from French legends Agressor—are drummer Kévin Paradis (the sticksman joined two years ago) and guitarist Kevin Verlay (who joined in 2016 as a fill-in on the Marduk tour). Rejuvenated and re-spirited, Svart Crown returns to 2017 darker and deadlier. “The choice to get the two Kevins in the band was something natural for us,” Le Bail levels. “They have the experience, they fit our music, and they can also bring something new to it. That’s also the reason it took time for me and Ludo [bassist Ludovic Veyssière] to determine if we had a solid foundation with them. We did.”
Now, the first thing that might pop into our puny minds is: a resource war between Svart Crown and Agressor? Not so fast. Paradis and Verlay were part of the Alex Colin-Tocquaine-based quartet long before they part of Le Bail’s tribe. OK, not long before, but certainly over a year. Ultimately, the Kevins are doing double duty in Svart Crown and Agressor, and see no reason why not. “Agressor are great friends of ours,” Le Bail assures. “When we had to prepare the new lineup for the last few tour cycles, Alex let us practice at Agressor’s old rehearsal place, which is based about half an hour away from us.”
Svart Crown have also been hard at work writing the follow-up to Profane, where Le Bail has been entrusted to write the lion’s share of the group’s malign material. The process is singular but efficient. Once the ringleader has enough music, he presents each idea or full song to his bandmates to vet whether they get an emperor-style thumbs up or thumbs down. “We didn’t change our writing method that much,” reveals Le Bail. “After I write and send the guys my ideas, they work through them, and then together, the songs that are approved, we tab them out. Then, we organize a few working sessions together for four or five days every third or fourth month. It’s only then we really get to see and hear if the chemistry is happening.”
As for what separates new album, Abreaction, from its predecessors, Le Bail’s quick to point out that Svart Crown are still very much the same band that made debut full-length Ages of Decay in 2008. The band members are merely more experienced as musicians and, obviously, a little older. To that end, Svart Crown’s new music is far more personal. “The envy is still the same,” says Le Bail. “But we don’t have the same intensity in our playing compared to eight years ago. Even if the Abreaction is still really violent and brutal, there’s a filter on it. Our music is less convoluted. There’s more feeling and atmosphere. The dynamics are still there. And that’s the most important.”
Make no mistake, Abreaction is the sum of Profane, Witnessing the Fall, and Ages of Decay’s parts. While it may be more measured—using Dante’s nine circles of Hell as a yardstick—in its attack, Svart Crown’s newest is more threatening on every level. Songs like “Golden Sacrament”, “Upon This Intimate Madness”, “Orgasmic Spiritual Ecstasy”, and the city-leveling “Carcosa” portend an ominous future in their nail-biting extremity. Their newest bombastic creations are the savage storms before the eerie calm.
“This album remains really extreme,” Le Bail promises. “I mean, the beginning of a song like "Upon This Intimate Madness" is maybe one the craziest beginnings we’ve ever done. Total savagery. This song is inspired a by a French movie called Mon Roi, which is about a passionate love story that turns into an absolute disaster. Vincent Cassel, who plays one of the main characters, is a totally devilish and narcissistic manipulator. I was so stocked when I saw this movie.”
Recorded over a month-plus at Studio Sainte-Marthe in Paris, Abreaction was yet again helmed by long-time collaborator Francis Caste. The Parisian producer and audio engineer knew exactly what buttons to push and knobs to turn to get the most out of Svart Crown to make songs like “Upon this Infinite Madness”, “Khimba Rite”, “Transubstantiation”, and punishing closer “Nganda” exceptionally intense. The sound to Abreaction is just right, too. It’s both clear and hefty as well as noisy and cold, elements often sought out but rarely obtained in death and black metal. “The recording sessions were relaxing and studious in the same time,” recalls Le Bail. “We were conscious that we set the high bar on Profane. At the end, it was like every recording: smooth at the beginning, stressful at the end and in-between there were some very strong moments when everything started to take shape.”
As for why Svart Crown didn’t venture out of their respective comfort zone, the reasons are plenty. Financially, it might not make sense to venture up to Sweden to record at Fredman Studios, for example. Logically, it might not make sense to jet over to GodCity Studios in Boston to track with Kurt Ballou. And linguistically, it might not make sense to head over to Hertz Studios with the Wieslawski brothers. So, Svart Crown kept all things Abreaction close to home. “We thought about recording or mixing Abreaction in a new studio,” Le Bail says. “But when I try to explain how we would like to sound, the first reference is always to Francis’ production. It was obvious to go back to him. I personally love to work with him. Recording an album and staying with the same person for a month or something can be hard. I don’t have that kind of problem with Francis.”
There’s something oddly disquieting about the lyrics to Abreaction. They lack the Euro-centric quality of lyrics past. Based on titles alone—such as “Carcosa”, “Transubstantiation”, and “The Pact: To the Devil His Due”—it’s evident Svart Crown are thinking outside the usual boxes. “The album’s vibe is focused on tribal aspects of African/voodoo ritual,” offers Le Bail. “That kind of celebration where you let it go, bringing out all the inner demons. This album is really cathartic. It helped me externalize a lot. From our band life to what happened in our country (all the attacks we’ve been through).”
By now, it’s clear Svart Crown are fiercely loyal and pragmatic. They kept Francis Caste on board. And they’ve also maintained the services of artist Stefan Thanneur, the creator of Profane’s disturbing cover art. While the cover art to Abreaction is less visually focused, it’s equally fiendish. The blood reds and rust colors work well against the bone whites and darker, related hues. At first glance, it bears resemblance to painter Zdzislaw Beksinski’s frightful work. “We had the chance to get really massive artwork,” Le Bail says. “It’s visually really interesting. It’s not as disturbing as Profane, but there’s something in the colors and textures that fit so well with the abrasive aspect of the record. That is something that I had on my mind. There’s a real universe in the artwork, in my opinion.”
Now that Abreaction is nearing release, Le Bail and crew are planning big things for their Century Media debut. They hope to venture out as often as possible, making the performance of Abreaction songs a veritable spectacle. Expect to see Svart Crown on a whole new level. The French black/death metallers will also have released their first music video for “Orgasmic Spiritual Ecstasy”. “We have always been an ambitious band,” asserts Le Bail. “We try to have realistic goal that we can reach every year. I truly believe we are doing music, which can be related with everywhere. Don’t get me wrong. We are still a challenger. But, from where we are standing, world domination looks fine.”
So, if 2013 was grisly on all levels, imagine what 2017 will be like now that Svart Crown have in their midst, Abreaction. May God help us all!