Sound — 7
It was the death of the band they loved, they said. The fans didn't recognise the changed face of this group; they felt that while they may be talented, the new guys were not the band they once knew. Not a single one was on the lineup for their last album in 2011, besides the ever-present frontman. But, inspired by the death and reincarnation of classic lineups through metal history (see: "Heaven & Hell," "Rust in Peace"), Mark Hunter has pressed on, brought his new guys in and is ready to make music again. Straight to business, then, for the newly-spliced Chimaira. The groove metal veterans' personal drama has been rumbling for the best part of three years now, but it's settled finally on a draft of four new members, handpicked to redesign the Chimaira sound for a new era. "Crown of Phantoms" is by far the most technically accomplished album in the band's catalogue. While all previous incarnations would inevitably break from the right hand workouts once in a while, this one evolves them, taking in more intricate grooves that reflect the changing landscape of rhythmically-oriented metal. "The Machine" retains the band's signature bite but tracks like "Kings of the Shadow World" run the gamut of diving djentisms to metalcore breakdowns with assured intricacy. Meanwhile, the electronic charges of "Wrapped in Violence" and folk-tinged acoustic interlude "The Transmigration" offer some variety, admittedly not the band's strongest point. Dth guitarist Emil Werstler has considerable influence on a seven-string, with riffs hitting tough low As and a handful of tracks passing briefly through the esoteric moods of his original outfit. Most impressive by far, though, is drummer Austin D'Amond. He joined shortly after "The Age of Hell" in 2011 and makes quite the splash on his recorded debut. In fact, he makes three or four splashes on every groove, hyperactively smashing his smaller cymbals to indent each chunk of synchronised riffing. The new band's notable chemistry (and their capacity to lock into such a wide range of new rhythms) is almost entirely down to his leadership, while the polish comes courtesy of longtime producer Ben Schigel.
Lyrics — 7
It normally gets a little bit Guns N' Roses when there's a lone frontman guarding the revolving door of backing musicians, but fifteen years' experience writing metal lyrics helps Mark Hunter in getting to the essence of his performance during what must have been a difficult period. Although his bark is one-dimensional, he would be loath to lose it considering it's the one thing left on the album that is unequivocally Chimaira. Lyrically he's fed on the usual diet of violence and resentment, struggling to offer much clarity or any great insights into the lives we lead, but ultimately serving par for the course in contemporary metal. This line from the "Wrapped in Violence" or less sums it up: "F--k yesterday, we're here to stay a cloudy haze will forever define us."
Overall Impression — 7
Few predicted Chimaira would come back with this kind of conviction or heaviness, but sadly some fans won't be around to hear it. They won't feel the gratification of a successful album from a band who others had written off. It may not be the most creative record you'll hear this year, nor is it required listening if the band's never floated your boat, but "Crown of Phantoms" is the most important release Mark Hunter and co. have made since "Resurrection." They're not dead yet - far from it.