Crown The Empire are certainly one of the more interesting musical acts to come out of the past decade, though they recently denounced being just that – an act. Yes, after being shackled under chains of strictly conceptual music, the Texan five-piece are now looking to be nothing more than themselves rather than characters trapped in 30-40 minute recordings. For a band that has always been ambitious with varying degrees of success in the execution of their ideas this is the boldest move they could possibly make.
All of this is following a surprising line-up change with a denouncement of the group’s last release The Resistance. They just didn’t feel the record’s lofty concept was pulled off correctly. Luckily, in the world of art you can reintroduce yourself to the world as many times as you want and call it a different perspective. For this reason, CTE’s anticipated third record Retrograde has plenty of reason to cause a commotion within the post-hardcore, and even rock, scenes. For a group that cites a love for the theater arts, Linkin Park and Slipknot as some of their biggest influences it comes as no surprise that their feet have already stepped into the door of other music worlds. This is, after all, the house that Bring Me The Horizon built, a house with multiple levels and increasingly expensive rent.
The rulebook for rock music these days is ever-expanding into other dimensions, a movement that can be described using a rather simple quote – “Hey, you got your metalcore in my active rock radio!”. In the case of Retrograde and its leading single, “Zero”, a dialed-in approach was taken to assure that the song was easily picked up on. For all of the backing glitz and glam that CTE have used in their past material, it’s admittedly refreshing to hear such a straight-forward approach. What CTE have put together here is a contemporary blend of alternative rock and post-hardcore that carries with it a chorus as big as the sky vocalist Dave Escamilla directs the listener to jump towards. Though the structure of the song is admittedly stripped bare to the standard pop formula, it’s still plenty heavy with energetic and powerful screams from Dave in the verses, pounding rhythms and two well-telegraphed breakdowns. All the while, it’s clear that every musician in the band has learned how to fit each of themselves into a 4 minute running time. Though there are no guitar nor drum solos to speak of, a greatly emphasized mix allows every member to be heard clearly, especially vocalist Andy Leo who sounds refreshingly real as opposed to the multi-layered mess that hindered his choruses on The Resistance. To put it frankly, it sounds like a human is singing and not Pro Tools effects – All the more reason to believe this band is headed in a better direction. Hayden Tree even gets a pretty audible bass line in the bridge. The biggest compliment to be given to “Zero” is how obviously massive it will sound live. The intro build-up makes for quite the explosion of sound when drummer Brent Taddie crashes in pounding over a groovy riff played by Brandon Hoover (Dave also plays on the track). As a matter of fact, the band have been playing it live long before the studio version seen the light of day and judging by the many fan-shot YouTube videos of the now-released song the enthusiastic reception is speaking for itself. The chorus in “Zero” is heavily emphasized, but the backing woah-oh’s hint at potentially brilliant crowd participation. The few lyrics that are there seem to revolve around not being afraid to take risks and doing what you desire rather than what is desired of you which ties in nicely to the band’s change in direction. Not to forget, with a more limited set of lyrics comes the chance that more people will show up at a CTE show knowing every word to “Zero” when its played.
It’s important to note that the word Retrograde refers to moving backwards. Crown The Empire are taking that definition and utilizing it to its full definition by starting over as a band. “Zero” is without a doubt one of CTE’s biggest anthems and the best each individual member has ever sounded, but it’s also the safest song the band have created to-date. However, when it comes down to it, a primarily ambitious band releasing a safe track to lead off the record is pretty ballsy. We’ll find out on July 22nd if “Zero” is indicative of Retrograde‘s entire experience. Knowing Crown The Empire surprises are surely in store.