The Crown – Hammering to DestroySunday, 28th February 2021
Originating in 1990 as Crown of Thorns and evolving into The Crown by 1998, this Swedish outfit continually strives for balance in terms of their melodic death/thrash attack. For their latest album Royal Destroyer, you’ll hear everything from death metal, thrash, punk, grind, heavy metal and even epic/doom elements song to song. It’s hard not to think this would be the most versatile record the band has ever recorded.
We reached out to guitarist Marko Tervonen on Skype and he was happy to bring Dead Rhetoric up to speed on the latest effort. You’ll learn more about the COVID-related delays that actually worked to the benefit of the final product, their production / sound philosophy, memories surrounding favorite and underrated albums in the catalog, thoughts on his son’s development in his own band, and what to expect from the band in these challenging times to promote this album.
Dead Rhetoric: Your bassist Magnus Olsfelt in the press release for this album Royal Destroyer feels it encompasses everything from early 90’s death metal, thrash, punk, grind, heavy metal and epic/doom textures. Where do you see this record standing against The Crown’s vast previous discography – and do you enjoy the variety and versatility this record brings?
Marko Tervonen: First of all, the versatility and variety is what I am most happy about with this record. I think it’s excellent because in all honesty it would be easier to make an album based on a recipe with ten similar songs. There is the slow stuff, fast stuff, punk-ish tracks and rock and roll. Different feels to it as well – and that’s thanks to the COVID thing a bit. Because we had to postpone the recordings for this album. The original plan was to record this album in May, and we postponed it to September, so there were some months there that we could be at home, think about it more, and could we improve things a bit more. When we came back to rehearse we removed two songs and we added two songs, “We Drift On” and “Beyond the Frail”. With those two it added more variety. Probably the only good thing about COVID is it helped us create a better album.
In a sense, I think with pride I think we would put this album next to Cobra Speed Venom. In a way we think this album is a sequel to that album. What do you do with a sequel – you need to turn everything up to eleven. We are feeling really happy with what we’ve accomplished with this album. It’s like you said, it has all those styles and feels that we have done over the past thirty years. The super fast, the punk edge thing, thrash, even the slow stuff. Royal Destroyer as a title is showing our history in a way, and what we are capable of doing. At the same time, trying to do stuff with a new and fresh approach.
Dead Rhetoric: Writing for a whole year before hitting the recording studio – do you remember which songs connected first through that stage and were there specific tracks that maybe took some revisions or time to develop longer that you are particularly proud of? And do you believe it’s important to be so self-critical of new material this deep into your career?
Tervonen: One of the first tracks was “Motordeath” that we also released now as a video. It can be pretty difficult when you start all over again on a new album. There is a long way until you see the finish line. Especially when we are rehearsing songs five, six, and seven you start to see the picture, where we are going with this and what are we trying to create here.
Some songs write themselves, but I spent a lot of time on what we so dangerously call our ‘ballad’ – “We Drift On”. That was the most discussed song ever in our band. Should it even be on the album? In the end it added something cool and dynamic to the new album. We spent a couple of extra months doing that. For my songs, I’m super proud of the closer “Beyond the Frail”. That was a last minute add on to the album. It’s super melodic and super fast – in a sense it’s in the style of a couple of songs we did twenty years ago. Like a song from Eternal Death called “In Bitterness and Sorrow”, a little brother to that song. There is this melody going all the time in the song.
Dead Rhetoric: I also remember the last album you had a difficult time deciding what would be the bonus material – and let Andreas from Metal Blade take care of. Was it an easier decision this time around?
Tervonen: There are two – we recorded twelve songs. One of the bonus tracks will be released by Decibel magazine as a flexi-single thing. That won’t end up on any of our formats – but at least in six months they have an exclusivity for it. There was only one track we had to decide on a bonus, it’s not easier but somewhere it made sense to put “Absolute Monarchy” as the bonus. Its not a bad song, but maybe some of that vibe is already on the (album). It felt ok to remove it from the core album. I know with Cobra we struggled and we let Andreas choose. This time it felt natural.
Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of specific songs, “Let the Hammering Begin” is that a tribute to Slayer?
Tervonen: Yeah. I remember for Cobra Speed Venom this song “In the Name of Death”, the working title of that song was “Hetfield” because of so many old Metallica vibes. We felt the Slayer vibe with “Let the Hammering Begin”. Personally, the main part has a Slayer feel, but there isn’t much Jeff Hanneman riff styling. It is fun to have tribute songs, whether it actually sounds like the (band) or respect for Jeff in this case.
Dead Rhetoric: Teaming up with Fredrik Nordström at his legendary Studio Fredman, what does a man with this much talent and experience bring to the table to make The Crown sound even stronger when it comes to his work? Do you enjoy having that fresh set of ears to give you a little distance from how you would produce the band?
Tervonen: Absolutely. And that’s exactly why as we were about to do Cobra Speed Venom that I didn’t want to produce it, I just wanted to be the guitarist. Fredrik is very cool because he doesn’t have any sort of fixed ways when it comes to producing albums. He has done Dimmu Borgir albums with a symphony choir for weeks and it’s super professional, but he’s so in tune with his work because on Cobra we said we don’t want this super produced approach where we were going to listen to every track hundreds of times and edit the crap out of it. We are going to go in there, hammer out the songs in one or two takes. We recorded the full album in six or seven days, we were well-prepared and he was in the same zone. We had this punk edge, let’s try to capture real performances, real drums for the sounds. It’s very spontaneously recorded and I think you can hear it. We tried to have a similar approach as the last album – continued that in that mindset. Raise everything an extra bar.
Dead Rhetoric: You shot a video for “Motordeath” that incorporates the band performing and narrative sequences with an actress and actor cutting back and forth. How do you feel the video shoot went and how did the storyline work out between the band and the director Christoffer Tönnäng – was it a collaborative process, as it’s refreshing to not have the band footage being shot in a warehouse-type scenario?
Tervonen: Yeah, the warehouse curse! (laughs) That’s always the first idea – let’s find a warehouse and do it there! This old building was only a couple hundred meters away from where I live. It has a very cool vibe to it, so we did the performance part of this in that fine room. We worked with Christoffer before, he did the “Iron Crown” and “Cobra Speed Venom” videos with us – we’ve known him really well, he’s a local guy and really talented. What we decided on is we didn’t only want the performance part, we have had a lot of that in the past. We wanted something on the side. The “Motordeath” lyrics don’t necessarily fit to this extra storyline, so we gave Chris a bit of latitude with something that we could incorporate visually that makes sense. The lyrics are more of a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max scenario with references to fast cars and stuff like that. Obviously the first idea was to set fire to like fifty cars, but reality hits – whose cars are we going to burn? And we don’t have that kind of budget.
In the end we decided to do something that didn’t have to make perfect sense, let’s leave something to the imagination as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Your son Mateo as a teenager is the lead guitarist in blackened thrash act Sarcator. How does it feel to have him following in your footsteps in heavy metal, and what words of wisdom have you shared with him as he establishes his own path in the scene?
Tervonen: It’s really amazing to see. What’s so exciting is he’s starting in a really new era. I can’t give him any advice because my rules from the 1990’s do not collaborate with how the world works nowadays. I am super proud of him. He has an incredible interest in music, and especially guitar. Right before they recorded the debut album they switched the lineup around, he also sings on it. He actually helped me with vocals demoing stuff with The Crown. It’s going to be a real joy to follow Sarcator. The guys are super dedicated, I was really happy they asked me to produce their album and I enjoyed it. It’s a good debut, considering they are so young they have a long and bright future ahead of them if they want to do it. Mateo is only 15 years old, he is basically my age when I started. Back then we did demo tapes – now the guys jump in and do albums (laughs). I am super proud of him.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel like he’s at an advantage because of technology and the internet available to him to advance his skills faster than you had as a teenager?
Tervonen: I would say absolutely. From the outside you may think I taught him all these guitar licks, but no. I am learning something, but his greatest teacher is YouTube. He searches for his favorite music, and everything is there. There is always a guy playing a guitar, every song, and he’s learned a lot by watching and playing by ear. Of course there are a lot of advantages there, but the thing that struck me is the kids, they get blind because they do not realize the world is in front of them. They hit the keyboard, press enter, and they can reach the whole world. I’m from the old letter days where you had to wait three weeks for a response. It’s important if you want a career in these days you need to embrace these tools as well. We have all these artists that want to be the next big thing.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the recording history of The Crown, what do you think are one or two key albums that really pushed the band to another level in terms of satisfaction within the band, and what do you think may be an underrated record in the catalog that more people need to dig deeper into and process more?
Tervonen: I think Hell Is Here was very, very important for our career. We did two albums before that, and with Hell Is Here we were picked up by Metal Blade. I think the first two albums are a bit more standard in a way, where we showed our wide range of influences. That helped us a lot, because with Hell Is Here we felt we could go in whatever direction we wanted. Thrash, punk, grindcore. A bit of an underrated album in my opinion is Doomsday King. It wasn’t intended to be an album by The Crown. It was supposed to be a different type of project with a different name, but it became The Crown afterwards. I think it’s a solid thrash album, a lot of good stuff on it.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been married for 16 years. Discuss the balance you have with the band, your studio work, and having a wife and children. What sort of support does she provide that helps you become whole from all the activities being a musician entails?
Tervonen: Yeah, I have fantastic support from my wife. The cool thing is she doesn’t come completely outside of the music world. She never even heard metal until she was a grown up. She’s a classical singer, performed a lot on stage so she knows what that is all about. She supports the things we are doing. I met her a half year before we quit the band. We got to create a very good life together without The Crown really being there. Right when Mateo was born I decided to start a recording studio, and I signed a three year deal and she supported it all the way. The Crown thing snuck back up and we managed to… we are all in a good state of mind within the band, to make it work with family, work, and band. Just to find this magical balance to everything. It’s working, because in the years that we broke up, we sat down and got our lives in order – got some proper jobs or went back to school. Many of us became parents, so when we came back it was a totally different perspective of things. We want to make this work, but it’s not now about accepting every tour offer. We can say no and try to make things work for everyone. I love her for that support.
Dead Rhetoric: We’ve lost some amazing guitarists over the past year – most notably Eddie Van Halen and Alexi Laiho. What are your thoughts on these guitarists, did they help shape your outlook and technique in some aspects with your style even through rhythms and songwriting mechanics?
Tervonen: It’s of course an extreme tragedy, unfortunately as things go I will continue to see many of my heroes pass. Personally, the Van Halen stuff – due to my age it never really became a thing for me. I understood how brilliant he was. I don’t own a single Van Halen album – I know Robin loves Van Halen. I was more into the extreme stuff. Alexi I never met him, but he is another fantastic guitar player. The closest relationship to Alexi goes through Johan. When he quit The Crown he formed another band One Man Army and the Undead Quartet and they did a six week tour with Children of Bodom. When I heard Alexi died the first person I contacted was Johan. It’s sad and a tragedy.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say have been some of your favorite records over the past five to ten years – either in heavy metal or in other genres? Or do you find yourself reverting back to the early classics when you want to put in some pleasure listening for music?
Tervonen: Mostly I go back, but this is the cool thing is Mateo is 15 years old and he is discovering a lot of new music and introducing me to a lot of new music. I am happy when he discovered a band called Hellripper, they fire up a lot of inspiration in me. Mostly I pay attention to the old heroes who release new albums. I love the new Paradise Lost, and I still love Metallica, Morbid Angel, and Danzig. Those albums I will always listen to – and their new albums. I hear a lot of music here and there. Some bands raise my eyebrows a little bit. Sometimes I can enjoy a new album by U2. I’m getting old (laughs). I rediscovered that U2 is a really good band. When I find something good I listen to it for like months on repeat, and I go forward to the next thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for the rest of 2021 into 2022 for The Crown to push this record?
Tervonen: First of all, I feel so bad for the bands that rely on the live touring compared to us. When they have their bands as their major source of income, with COVID it’s been a bad year for them. For us, the live situation it doesn’t create problems in that sense. It’s impossible to plan anything as far as touring, we don’t have a single show booked. I see a lot of friends that are booking shows, and then they cancel. It’s terrible to see. We don’t know how the festivals will happen this year.
You need to be a bit creative and come up with some other ideas. Streaming stuff is a good substitute, we are looking to do something in February – maybe a brutal two-hour show. We are trying to figure out how we will reach out to people. We use our social media platforms to interact, do some contests, playthroughs. It’s going to be interesting to see what we can book for this year.