Well, they did it again. I didn’t think they could, but they did. ‘Who are they, and what did they do?’ you might be asking. They are Texas metalcore BAMFs (that’s the technical term, by the way) Crown the Empire, and what they did was release another phenomenal record.
The first track, Call To Arms (Act I), places us back in the dystopian world of The Fallout, and things really aren’t much better than they were the last time around. A corrupt and totalitarian government is making a right mess of things, and this sparks the creation of a resistance movement, which kicks off the events of the rest of the album as we follow our nameless protagonist (sans the last track, which I’ll get to later).
The album goes from 0-60 as soon as the stage is set, with the last portion of Act I leading into Initiation. This is one of the more straightforward songs on the album, but it does show just how proficient CTE has become with popular metalcore’s building blocks. With David Escamilla handling all of the screams for the song, it opens up room for original vocalist Andy Leo to let loose with his cleans. My favorite part of the track is when Dave and Andy layer their vocals on top of one another. Their voices work extremely well together, and this song really shows it.
The next track, Millennia, showcases Andy’s vocals almost exclusively, and is definitely one of the most radio-friendly songs I’ve heard from the band at any stage. By no means should this be seen as an insult, though. This is definitely a lighter-waving sing-along anthem, and will hopefully be a mainstay in their live set when they’re not playing shorter shows. The icing on the cake is given in the form of guitarist Benn Suede’s guitar solo, which had all the tone, feel, and guts that anyone could want from a solid rock solo, and fades out at just the right time before the rest of the song follows suit.
Machines is another fantastic track, with a phenomenal buildup, leading into a brilliant pre-verse that feature’s Benn’s guitar soaring over the groove laid out by rhythm guitarist Brandon Hoover, bassist Hayden Tree, and drummer Brent Taddie. The same lick is featured in a few other portions of the song, and doesn’t lose any of its power or luster, but there’s just something about hearing it the first time around in the song that makes you want to get up and do something. Headbang, mosh, punch a guy, whatever.
After fading out of Machines, we are given another brief interlude in The Wolves of Paris (Act II), which is followed by gritty, groovy, bottom end-centric powerhouse MNSTR. Besides featuring one of the coolest opening lines I’ve ever heard (seriously, I’ve listened to it at least ten times by now, and I still get goose bumps), I’ll be shocked if this sonic kick in the gut doesn’t immediately open up every mosh pit it’s played for.
The rest of the album continues to be just as musically solid. The whole band is still getting better and better, without a doubt. The drums, guitars, bass, vocals, and even the programming in the background were seriously cranked up to 11. Everything has a dramatic aspect that would seem almost cheesy in less capable hands, and Crown the Empire handles it with both gusto and grace, as we follow them down their musical path to The Phoenix Reborn, and the tragic end of our protagonist.
The final track of Rise of the Runaways isn’t tied to the Fallout’s world or storyline, because it tells us a different story. It is the third and maybe final chapter in the Johnny saga, Johnny’s Rebellion. I could rant about this story for ages, but I’ll save you the hassle. In this chapter, our titular character has killed an imposter devil, and still does not have a soul (go ahead and give Johnny Ringo and Johnny’s Revenge a listen, so you’re familiar with the story. Yeah, it’s a ridiculous tidbit of information to throw at you, but the songs themselves are really good, and are probably my favorite track on each release that the band has put out). Over the course of the song, he raises an army of souls to wage war on the devil, and eventually succeeds in defeating and killing the king of hell. Instead of taking his chance to leave, he then thinks ‘Nah,” and decides to become the king of hell himself. Go ahead and take a second to re-read that.
Yeah, I know, it’s totally pants-eating crazy, but it’s also completely and utterly brilliant. It’s the most ambitious concept I’ve ever heard this side of a Mastodon record, and I loved every second of it. Everything from the instrumentation, to the vocals, to the background noises, from screaming to laughter, fit together like puzzle pieces, and made hearing the story that I just described fly by without making you question what’s happening. It’s like a dream. Thinking about it afterward may make you question every little detail, but when it’s happening, it all just kind of makes sense.
In closing, I think that Crown the Empire definitely brought their A-game to this record. It had everything you could want in a metalcore album, with enough dramatic flair to make it stand out, and turn listening into a memorable experience. Sometimes I forget that this band is only about four years old. With all the momentum and growth I’ve seen and heard from their releases in that short amount of time, I can tell that these guys are definitely going places. Big places. Shiny places. Hopefully not dystopian future places.