Thrash metal was in a bad way during the 1990’s. The twin killings of grunge and Metallica’s style shift left the thrash movement clawing for any shred of relevance through the decade. Many bands broke up, went on hiatus or explored various other musical styles with varying results, none of which were commercially viable. Extreme metal ruled the underground and by the end of the decade it was black metal that captured imaginations – even thrash-centric scenes like death metal had a lull through the end of the century.
Leave it to Sweden to fix things. Not only was the pioneering Gothenburg Sound responsible for giving new life to thrash metal, but another Swedish group would enter the new millennium and release a melodic death/thrash offering that served as a signpost for the coming revival of many forms of metal.
The Crown – Deathrace King
Released May 3, 2000 via Metal Blade Records
My Favorite Tracks – Rebel Angel, I Won’t Follow, Death Explosion
Deathrace King is not an album with ebbs and flows or peaks and valleys. It is an intense, fast-paced assault through all of its 50 minutes. It’s a collection of songs that lives up to the album’s title and puts thrash front and center at a time when thrash was a discarded relic of the past.
A very fitting title for the opener. This is an absolute barn burner that sets the tone for what the album is all about. The music flies at a breakneck tempo that couples perfectly with singer Johan Lindstrand’s hoarse growl of “It’s a death explosion.” The end of the song offers a reprieve from the headbanging with a slower passage that lets everyone catch their breath before the rest of the album flies off the track.
Executioner: Slayer Of The Light
It’s all out from start to finish here as the band goes on a neck-snapping attack and Lindstrand offers up a smorgasbord of Satan and death references. I could lament never having seen The Crown live but with stuff like this I’m not sure I would have survived the pit.
Back From The Grave
Another high octane thrasher that actually gets a bit philosophical in the chorus. I recall first hearing this song and wondering why I was pondering existential questions on a thrash song but the Swedish get pretty deep sometimes. It’s hard to read a philosophy textbook while headbanging but here we are.
Devil Gate Ride
A song kept on the album’s theme of racing that also features a special guest – Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates, which in 2000 was a defunct band. Lindberg’s guest turn would serve as foreshadowing – two years later, Tomas was in The Crown as their new singer.
This song hits all the right notes and perfectly illustrates the deathrace in full glory. It’s not a race to avoid Hell – this car is heading straight into it at full speed.
The tempo chills just a hair on this but the brutality is still present. The theme of revenge is well-worn in metal and it’s not served cold here – this dish is red hot.
The Crown go 666% fast on their ode to the Devil. Good old meat and potatoes, devil horn’s-raising heavy metal is back.
I Won’t Follow
Another whiplash-inducing tune that is cut from the “I stand alone and against society” cloth. It is the rebellion and individuality that stand’s at metal’s epicenter. It’s not a path for the faint of heart or ear.
Now we’re just throwing words together and thrashing along to the end of the world. It features the old traditional thrash gang chorus and adds a bit of fun to the apocalyptic mix.
Dead Man’s Song
The band slows it down for the one and only time on the album. It’s as much of a ballad as can be possible in extreme metal I suppose. This dirge laments the ultimate inevitability in life and provides a nice soundtrack for it.
We’re back on the track and racing at full pace to the finish. There is another guest on this song – Mika Luttinen from Impaled Nazarene joins in on the fun here. And this guest would not later join the band.
Total Satan is a thrash banger that sounds exactly like the title implies. No curveballs here.
The album closes with an 8-minute opus. It opens with a nearly 2-minute intro and then launches into the same thrash attack everyone has come to expect at this point. The song combines all of the album’s themes into a potent mish-mash of Satanic war-fueled orgy.
Deathrace King opened the new millennium with something that had been rare for the years prior – a heavy-hitting thrash record, informed with the masterful touch of Swedish melodic death. After several years in the wilderness, thrash and death were set to return in the 2000’s in a big way and The Crown led the charge.
The Crown would go on a winding path after Deathrace King – Johan Lindstrand would depart the group and the aforementioned Tomas Lindberg would briefly serve as his replacement. A few lineup changes and one hiatus later, the band were back at it through the 2010’s, eventually rejoined by Lindstrand.
However it all played out, Deathrace King serves as The Crown’s magnum opus and a monolith of an album that cut against the grain of the styles at the time. The album’s reputation has only grown in time as people have traced back to hear hidden gems they may have missed in metal’s lull of the late 90’s. The Crown’s deathrace ended after 49 minutes but heavy metal’s is still going 22 years after the fact.