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Northern Crown - "In The Hands Of The Betrayer" (CD/EP)

Northern Crown - "In The Hands Of The Betrayer" CD/EP cover image

"In The Hands Of The Betrayer" track listing:

1. In the Hands of the Betrayer
2. A Perfectly Realized Torment
3. Crystal Ball (Candlemass Cover)
4. Approaching Encroaching Storm
5. To Thee I Give an Orchid

Reviewed by on October 17, 2014

"...an album of epic doom and psychedelic progressions...sure to entrance its listeners."

Frank Serafine (vocals, lead guitar) joins a cast comprised of fellow Florida bands such as Orbweaver and Shadow Society to create Northern Crown’s debut EP “In the Hands of the Betrayer.” Zachary Randall is the mastermind behind the metallic mayhem, and the end result is an album of epic doom and psychedelic progressions. Bands such as Candlemass, Manilla Road, and Solitude Aeturnus come to mind on the doom-y side of the spectrum, while heavy metal root bands Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Uriah Heep seep through in the keyboards.

The opener and title track shows the band begin with one of the fastest parts in the album. Chugging guitars and a quicker vocal and keyboard delivery constrict these verse lines, which allows the chorus lines to really open up the song. Serafine’s voice swells with damnation during the chorus. Here his operatic qualities also shine. Around the 1:40 mark pay close attention to the palm-muted guitar and slick keyboard solo. That is a stand-out part on the track.

Chords ring longer and the beat is slower on the next track “A Perfectly Realized Torment.” As if opening a door to an incense-filled room, organ keys create a smoky haze to bring in the song. Descending guitar scales between verses add notable power here and the chorus conjures ancient imagery from Eastern lands: “Ill summon the Djinni, Ifrit and Shaytan. Devils and Demons will dance by my hand.” Organs keys rise sharply during these parts and a guitar melody adds a greater sense of mystique around the 2:45 mark. Serafine’s voice on this track and “ To Thee I Give an Orchid” shows a Dio influence.

Roberto Celentano’s keyboards, especially his organ sounds, help the group realize a fantastic quality heard in bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. The Shadow Society member brings another dimension to Northern Crown's rendition of the Candlemass song “Crystal Ball.” Northern Crown’s overall style seems fitting for this cover, but it’s give and take in the presentation. The keyboards add that extra level of mystique, but take away from the guitars. While the melody still follows the chorus it lacks the echoing enchantment of the original. Also, while Serafine sings superbly at middle range, he stumbles a bit when trying hit a high note.

“Approaching, Encroaching Storm” serves as a good interlude to the album’s best song “To Thee I Give an Orchid” At over eleven minutes in length, this song is true to the nomenclature Epic Doom Metal. The guitar tones are very warm and Serafine sings with a ton of passion. The song has a Dio-era Sabbath vibe in the guitar sound and pacing, while the organs flash back to Rainbow and Deep Purple. Piano, slumbering rhythms, and guitar solos all build an impressive dynamic on this song. Most reviewers site this song as the grand achievement of “In the Hands of the Betrayer.” I’m going with the herd on this one.

The mystical aura Northern Crown creates on the album is strong, one that is sure to entrance its listeners. At times, though, some of the power in the guitar is lost to the floating atmosphere. Finding the balance between heavy guitars and symphonic majesty is a delicate line to toe. Also, Serafine’s vocals are brilliant as long as he stays in his range. Hopefully, the band will continue to improve, as this is only the group's first recording together, and soon we’ll see an album more sinister and grander in scope.

Highs: The keyboards imbue the album with a mystical aura.

Lows: Frank Serafine's voice can't quite reach the highest notes on "Crystal Ball."

Bottom line: A good debut, expect stronger efforts in the future.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)