Birmingham based Crimson Star exploded onto the unsigned hard rock scene in February 2016 with the release of their full-throttle debut EP Driven. The EP is packed full of hard-hitting, in-your-face hard rock, to please any rock fan. The recording from Romesh Dodangoda (Lower Than Atlantis, Funeral For A Friend), really the takes the EP to a whole other level, and impressively displays the band’s aggressive sound and immense riffs. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story of the EP.
The album is packed full of incredible riffs, and you’re offered a generous helping right at the start in Holy Land. Initially teasing the weighty main riff on a lone guitar, it packs a humongous punch when the full band enter alongside it. The driving drums, fat bass, and great production really bring it to life, flesh it out and make the riff a true force to be reckoned with! The riffs aren’t limited to just one track either; Driven probably boasts the most killer riff on the EP. The intro riff is fast paced, aggressive and, impressively heaviness in parts, demonstrating some awesome guitar work. There are times when the riffs would benefit from greater variation in the tails, but they undoubtedly grab your attention, pack a colossal punch and give the EP a really fantastic launch pad for greatness.
Another strong dimension featured on this EP is the vocal performance from Shaw. Waste Away best displays his passion and utilisation of various techniques to emphasise song sections. The verse sounds very relaxed, with nice ascending tails on the melodic lines. This, paired with the developing verse chords beneath the vocal melody, help prepare the track for the climactic choral section, and while it doesn’t fully deliver musically, Shaw pulls out an incredibly gritty, and powerful vocal performance to really grab your attention, and help the section standout. Unfortunately, there are a couple of things that let the vocals down a bit. The melodies often follow the guitar line in the chorus, Hide Away displays this most prominently; the chorus is really sparse, as the bass has dropped out, leaving two guitars, drums and vocals. So when the vocal melody matches one of the guitars it just sounds empty and unimaginative. Also, the lyrics throughout the EP fail to match the passion in the performance, as they lack clear themes relating to the songs, and they are very simplistic in their use of language. This suggests the need for a bit more attention to songwriting, and the lyrics aren’t the only part that lets this down.
Apart from the opening track Holy Land, there are no discernible choruses on the EP, and barely any hooks that will get stuck in your head. Of course there are many songs that don’t have a chorus; in favour of a refrain for example, or if it’s telling a story, or taking you on a musical journey. Some of my favourite songs of all time don’t have a chorus. The issue with these tracks is that they do have a chorus, but it just doesn’t stand out as a chorus. Looking again at Waste Away, apart from the vocal performance, no part of that chorus sounds like a chorus, and this is largely down to the harmonic content of the section. The verse before it builds nicely, creating tension with a dominant 7th chord in preparation for a key change into the chorus. Unfortunately, the release of tension just never comes this, and the chorus would disappear unnoticed, if it wasn’t for the vocals. There is no drum fill to indicate a distinctive change, and the release of harmonic tension just doesn’t happen. The E dominant 7th chord used suggests a change to an A chord is coming for the chorus. Really, any change of chord would be better than returning to an E chord, which is what happens in this track. This completely destroys all the tension built up during the verse section, and takes away the potential explosive impact of the chorus. Furthermore, the track sounds confused, with the harmony suggesting the track is in the same section, but the rhythm has changed and the vocalist is really going for it. This leaves the section just sounding confused and disappointing.
This isn’t a lone incident on the EP either, as Driven, Mexicana, and Hide Away all have similar issues with regards to use of chorus sections. Either with the transition into them, or the construction of them. In fact many of the chorus sections sound like pre-choruses, really great pre-choruses that build more tension, in preparation for a climax to the song. When Driven changes from the verse, the harmonic speed, and overall rhythm drops to half time, before climbing up to double time, and beyond. This prepares the the listener for a more release of tension down to normal/half time with a soaring vocal melody. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen, and the use of the track’s title during the section suggests that that was in fact the chorus. Despite containing no memorable melodies. If these sections were treated as pre-choruses or verses, they would be excellent, they’re well-constructed, utilise a range of interesting techniques, and build tension really well through the use of counter melodies. Unfortunately, this just leaves you with a disappointing feeling that something is missing from each track.
Overall, there is definitely loads of exciting content throughout the EP; the tasty riffs, passionately delivered vocals, and punchy production is enough to get any hard rock fan off their seat. Unfortunately, while many of the tracks draw you in, the lack of songwriting finesse fails to deliver the killer blow you’re expecting. The songs are often let down by the lack of a clear chorus section to really hang its hat on. Furthermore, the lack of lyrical complexity or themes makes this area lose interest quickly. It’s definitely a great debut, I’d love to witness the energy and passion of Crimson Star live, but they need to display some more maturity and attention to detail with regards to the songwriting.