At the turn of the millennium, when metal was heavily embroiled in the polish of nu-metal and the grit of metalcore, those who knew about the real shit knew about The Crown. With records like Deathrace King and Crowned In Terror, the Swedish death-thrash act blew the minds of everyone out there wishing heavy music was still about fast cards, A-bombs, and the fucking Devil. Now, two decades later, The Crown are finally being recognized for the influential underground force they were, having never wavered from their mission of making music that sounds how metal is supposed to.
“That is one of those aspects that makes me so fucking warm in my heart,” says guitarist Marko Tervonen. “Especially today when you can get the feedback from someone on the other side of the world. I know that when we released Cobra Speed Venom, for the first time played in Croatia and Russia, and it was so amazing. When we’d played in Russia, people had traveled 500 miles to see us and came with a pile of fucking fan magazines they wanted us to sign. That almost made me cry — it was such a beautiful thing. Because we never were a band that had a hit album or a big success album, but we’ve always been a part of it, and what I’ve noticed is that the people who followed us through the years, they genuinely love our music, and they will follow us to the death.”
One playthrough of the band’s upcoming new record Royal Destroyer proves that Marko and Co. have kept up their end of the bargain. The album will give fans everything they’ve come to expect of The Crown, from the muscular whirlwind of “Motordeath” to the crushing piston beat of “Glorious Hades.” But the band aren’t simply resting on their laurels, adding new levels of mood and nuance to the record with unexpected tracks like the anguished “We Drift On,” which adds a new level of slowness and emotionality for the band.
“‘We Drift On’ evoked the most angry discussions within the band,” laughs Marko. “I think the first version I did was even more mellow — some forces in the band were like, We can’t do this, this is way, way out of our range. But I insisted — it could be a cool fucking song. And later on, in the studio, when we were doing it, everybody was like, This is fucking cool. W’eve never done anything like this. It’s cool to surprise people. I really like to do songs like that, where I can go out of my element, but int he end make it a Crown song anyway.”
How much of Royal Destroyer was written pre-pandemic?
Actually, it was done before COVID madness came, because we were actually scheduled to start recording in May. We were actually ready to go into the studio. We were sort of frustrated that we had to postpone the recording session to September, but actually, probably the only fucking good thing that COVID did for us was create a better album for us. We had a lot of time to just think about the album, and the songs, and start to think to yourself, Is it good enough? What can we improve? There were actually a lot of changes made when we got together again, and we actually picked two songs out and put in two new ones. It just made a better album.
What songs got swapped in?
The two songs are a bit different than the rest, and I just felt they needed to be there to add variety to the album, and so it was the almost ballad-like “We Drift On” and the last track, “Beyond The Frail.” I think they helped create a wider album, and I think our best albums are the ones where we are all over the place. We take it down sometimes, we get heavy, we go super fast, and we also have some melodic stuff.
Is that always the process for you guys — start heavy and fast, then bring in the slow stuff?
Actually, not really, because four people in the band write music, and usually some of us start from scratch. We try to go into it without a complete goal with how the next album will become. That’s where something very interesting begins — we basically go around the table. Magnus [Olsfelt, bassist], you got a song? Let’s start with yours. Then it’s one of my songs, then it’s one of Robin [Sörqvist, guitar]’s, and that’s when the interesting things start to happen. When you’re up there with song number five or six, and you start to feel, Well, where are we going with this? That’s when you start to have ideas — Aw, it’d be cool to have a fucking brutal one-minute grindcore song in there, you know? Later on you get the whole picture, but we just start with an open canvas, and just start to write.
Over the years, The Crown have played with influences from many different genres of metal — do you ever come to an album with one in mind? This will be thrash-heavy, for example.
I really try to not overthink when I write. It can start with one riff — like the first single we did, “Motordeath,” which was maybe the first song I wrote for the album. The verse riff is what came to me, and that is so super-thrashy. If riff one and two have a certain vibe to it, I stick to it and create something out of it. I try to avoid having a ‘thrash’ verse or go completely elsewhere with the pre-chorus. It happens automatically — when you start getting that thrash vibe, you want to create this fucking thrash monster song. But when you’re done with that song, it’s not interesting for you to write another thrash song, so you go into something heavy and different, like “Glorious Hades,” when you really take it down and go heavy.
Where do the lyrics come in? I feel like The Crown’s songs have a strong unity of attitude, where the lyrics and riffs go perfectly together.
It works a bit differently for who you ask in the band. Actually, a couple of weeks ago, Magnus sent out a list with 30 new song titles. For him, it’s very important what the song is named, to create a feel to it. And obviously, you can tell by the titles, ‘Okay, this is going to be one of those fucking Venom songs’ or something like that. For me, it’s almost the opposite–I go with the music. Sometimes I write the lyrics to some of my songs, and sometimes I ask Johan [Lindstrand, vocals] to do the vocals, but there’s a feel to it. For example, “Motordeath” was actually the working title for that track, because I thought it had that “Motorbreath” thing from Metallica, but it was a bit heavier. I was jamming it with my son, and he started playing that “Motorbreath” kickbeat, and I shouted, “YEAH, MOTORDEATH!” I named the file that when I sent it to the guys, and it just stuck with it, and we decided that yeah, that’s a suitable title, you know? There are different things, but usually when it comes to titles or artwork, we rely a bit on Magnus, because he’s really fucking creative, and he’s really good with words. So historically, all the cool titles, I can guarantee, came from Magnus!
We actually premiered a video by Sarcator, your son Mateo’s band. What’s it like being able to work on death metal with your son?
I’m super proud, and it’s been so amazing to follow his band. He started showing interest in metal when he was so, so young — and today he’s only 15! He’s still a fucking kid! But he has a genuine interest in metal, and we can discuss all kinds of metal, from ‘80s to new stuff. He’s starting to develop his own idea of what he likes, what he dislikes, and that’s really cool! We can argue about bands — That sucks! No it doesn’t! And that he met friends his age who could play as well is a miracle itself! It’s beautiful to see they have all this interest in pretty brutal thrash stuff. They asked me to produce their debut album, and it was beautiful to work with them, because they are genuinely as good as you can hear on the album. I intentionally produced it very naturally, so no people could doubt them, and say, ‘This can’t be played this well.’ It is played that well. They’re young, so it’s going to be amazing to follow him.
One thing I asked him about was pressure to be metal — sort of going into the family business…
I know that from the outside, people must think, ‘Oh, he’s played metal for 30 years, he must have fucking forced him to play it.’ As we all know, if you have kids, you can’t force them to do anything. So it’s cool he’s into heavy music. I know Magnus’ son doesn’t even listen to metal, so [tastes] can evolve into whatever.
The Crown have a tradition of doing songs dedicated to their idols — “Kill ‘Em All,” “Are You Morbid?” — and I hear on this record you guys paid homage to late Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman on “Let The Hammering Begin.”
It’s basically that when we realize we’re getting too close to the original, we decide there’s no reason hiding it, so we might as well name the song “Kill Em All” or whatever. But I think that “Let The Hammering Begin” is one of the least obvious tributes, in the musical sense. I think it was more of a feeling Magnus’ side. When he first brought that song to us, he said, ‘It’s a tribute to Hanneman,’ and I was really expecting “Dead Skin Mask” riffs, those types of melodies. But it was so far from it! It was like, Where’s the Hanneman stuff? But the mid-part has a pretty obvious Slayer thing to it. It’s more of an emotional tribute, I’d say.
Similarly, is “Scandinavian Satan” a tribute to the Scandinavian black metal bands, like Bathory and Mayhem?
I think, especially musically, Magnus comes up with those types of songs now and then. It’s pretty cool — he really loves that old style, Venom and stuff like that, and that’s a pretty interesting phase in metal music, because the first thrash and black metal bands were very close to rock music. They had that sort of old, punkish rock and roll feel. Musically, he was really inspired by that — it’s the same riff on both verses and choruses, he just changed them. Also, first of all, every classic album needs a Satan title, so that’s one credential. And when he came up with that, I thought it was pretty brilliant. It goes into a lot of areas. The dude on the cover could be the Scandinavian Satan, in one sense. But also, the lyrics are from an old well-known Nordic mythology book that deals with the end of the world. Really old literature we read in school and stuff like that. So he used that and did a pretty clever thing of the first verse being straight from the book and the second verse is the same thing but sung in Swedish. So it adds sort of a Scandinavian feel to it. It turned out pretty cool!
I like that a Satan song is necessary for The Crown. I picture you finishing an album, looking back, and say, Wait…where’s the Satan song?!
Exactly! Where the fuck is Satan? Who’s to blame?
The Crown’s Royal Destroyer drops March 12th via Metal Blade, and is available for preorder.
Words by Chris Krovatin