There is a very distinct possibility that when we look backwards upon this era of metal music that we may be looking at something of a golden age. Certainly the internet and various technological advances of our times has allowed a ton of bands to saturate our ears with uninspired and/or hackneyed attempts at creating something ‘unique’. But when you wade through the slop to unearth the diamonds what we’ve been gifted are some truly exceptional and genre-defying gems. Enter Natron, the sophomore release from France’s Crown as an album that fits that descriptor to a tee.

A quick perusal of the press Crown has already generated in their brief career will bring up the usual suspects when talking about influences – Neurosis, Isis, Cult of Luna, Godflesh, etc. – but at some point it just becomes lazy journalism to continually throw the same names around the blogosphere. That does not, however, make those comparisons any less true from a pure sonic standpoint. But while Crown draw from all of those deep wells, (In all seriousness, how many atmospheric metal bands don’t draw from the Neurosis well at this point? Hint: The answer is none.) they are able to take their brand of complex doom meets esoteric electronica to distant parts of the metal realm where the idea of what’s expected is never really explored with any seriousness.

The album opens with the bludgeoning atmospherics of “Serpents” which relies so heavily on those nasty, nasty riffs and equally nasty vocals that course through it that it begins to take on an almost serpentine form, strangling the listener with a crushing heaviness. By the time you reach the third track on the album, “Wings Beating Over Heaven,” all bets are off. What starts as an unholy and icy blast of black metal inspired mayhem winds up dissolving into a Gothic-industrial interlude that sounds downright ritualistic in its delivery before relenting to waves of moody sludge, passive yet foreboding ambiance, and then finally returning them to the frozen tundras of second wave black metal once again. If you’ve ever wondered if a band could cram so many influences into one almost ten minute track, wonder no more. It’s been successfully done here.

Crown don’t stop pushing the envelope there though, as the next track “Fossils” is an electronic dance number played at mid-tempo and given a Joy Division meets Anathema like teasing. The track “Apnea” is probably the one that garners the attention of the Godflesh contingent as it bears the scars of a similar repetitive beating. Meanwhile “Tension of Duality” is ten more minutes of rampant genre annihilation and album closer “Flames” begins as something off an Italian horror soundtrack only to finish in a blaze of post-rock/metal glory. The sum total of the parts though outweighs the individual efforts of each track. While Crown are seemingly hellbent on the destruction of any chance anyone has of pigeonholing them into one specific genre, they don’t do so by sacrificing quality or coming off as some type of haphazard melange of influences. This is probably not a band who sits in their practice space saying things like, ‘let’s just throw this electronica bit here for shits and giggles.’ And if they do, they should probably just continue to blindly roll the dice because they’re certainly on a musical winning streak here.

Natron is out now via Candlelight Records. It can be experienced and purchased at the Candlelight Bandcamp page.