Sound — 7
The last six years may have ushered in a swarm of bands that are erecting a pop-metalcore scene (read: scourge, for some), but there isn't much room to lambast Crown The Empire about that, seeing as they've always had the intention of making chug-heavy, breakdown-filled metalcore with starry-eyed choruses. Formed in 2010 by a group of high school students in Dallas, Texas, Crown The Empire was quick to bloom into something real, and a year after their debut EP, "Limitless," the band would sign with Rise Records and shortly release their debut album, "The Fallout." Despite critics panning it for its blatant investment in the current metalcore trends and its lack of ambition or uniqueness, it reaped big commercial success, clocking in at the top 10 Billboard Independent and Hard Rock charts, as well as hitting #1 on the Top Heatseekers chart. This success would bring forth several great touring opportunities for Crown The Empire, as well as earn them the Alternative Press award for "Best Breakout Band" this year, and while they're currently performing in this year's Warped Tour (because of course they are), they've just released their second album, "The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways."
In most ways, Crown The Empire show an increase in their musical prowess in "The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways." While still primarily wielding a pop-metalcore sound in the album, songs like "Initiation," "MNSTR," "Bloodline" and "Johnny's Rebellion" show off metalcore riffs and breakdowns that stand above mediocrity and show some improvement in those fundamental building blocks. They also attempt to shift into a more alt-punk gear in "Millennia" and "Rise of the Runaways," which provides a refreshing moment from the cardinal chugs in the rest of the album; and hearing lead guitarist Bennett Vogelman's guitar solo in "Millennia" is fair evidence that he's got potential not too far from reach. The most potent advancement in the album, though, is the usage of symphonic sound elements. Crown The Empire had been dabbling with them in their debut album, but for the most part, they came off pretty vanilla and much like the symphonic elements that many other metalcore bands throw onto the track as something to accompany the guitar chugs. But this time around, they showed an upgrade in their utilization of piano, choir, and string sections throughout the album (most notably in the "act" songs "A Call to Arms (Act I)," "The Wolves of Paris (Act II)," and "Satellites (Act III)"), and these sections build bona fide theatrical moments of suspense and triumph, rather than simply being extra toppings. Lastly, Crown The Empire take the stuttering glitch and tape-stop effects down several notches in this album in comparison to "The Fallout," which is something that needed to be done, and something everyone should be happy about; but for those that do enjoy those tricks, you'll get your fix of them in "Machines," "MNSTR," "Second Thoughts" and "Maniacal Me."
Lyrics — 8
Crown The Empire also step their game up quite well in the lyrical department this time around. While "The Fallout" contained a not-quite-loose but also not-quite-tight concept of a post-nuclear dystopia, "The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways" comes back to that dystopia sometime in the future, where a tyrannical nation established to restore order to the world. Frontman Andrew Velasquez narrates the main character's experience, starting as a military initiate in Aeon City, then runs away to escape the confines of the city, but then ends up back in the city and stages an uprising to take down the tyrannical nation, though the nameless protagonist dies in the end. Along with the overarching storyline, plenty of lyrical callbacks can be found throughout, not only tying songs on the album together, but also tying songs to lyrics from "The Fallout," which earns extra brownie points.
Unrelated to the main concept in the album, Velasquez also brings back the fictional character Johnny in the final song, "Johnny's Rebellion." Velasquez first created the story of Johnny in the final song on "The Fallout," "Johnny's Revenge," which detailed the devil welcoming Johnny to Hell, and Johnny claiming his revenge by killing the devil, only to find out that it was an imposter. In "Johnny's Rebellion," Johnny once again vows to destroy the devil, but first bides his time to raise an army of like-minded souls that will fight with him. He ends up succeeding, with his army destroying the devil's empire and Johnny defeating the devil (specifically, tearing his black heart out from his chest and destroying his crown of fire), but before Johnny takes back his soul and departs from Hell, he decides he'd rather take the devil's role of being the king of Hell - and this certainly tees things up for an anticipated third installment of the Johnny saga, which, if the pattern sticks, will be found at the end of Crown The Empire's third album.
Overall Impression — 8
With "The Fallout" being full of freshman follies, "The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways" is a proper step forward, and those that may have been saying two years ago that Crown The Empire was like a knock-off version of We Came As Romans, the effort found in this sophomore album quashes those opinions. Though Crown The Empire originally began with pop-metalcore aspirations, the fascination for elaboration in the compositions and lyrics provided in "The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways" shows that maybe there's even more lingering in the band's ambition than just millennial-made metalcore. Only time will tell how Crown The Empire will go about their future and their next record, but if they advance in the same way they did in this album, then the sky's the limit for them.