Monday Night Mettle
Crown of Earth at The Nail, Ardmore, PA
by Stu O’Connor
A full moon hung in the lazy summer twilight sky, which seemed an auspicious sign for visiting the lair of Philly-area heavy metal enclave, The Nail. First impressions of the event—there were three bands on the bill this Monday night—seemed to reinforce the stereotypes associated with the music. The walls of The Nail were painted black with graffiti, as was the clothing of the majority of the sparse crowd. There were lots of cargo shorts, black baseball and trucker caps with intimidating logos, and black T-shirts, emblazoned with metal band logos and one of Jack Skellington holding a Jamieson’s whiskey bottle.
The opening band, Everwar, from upstate New York, deserves a shout out for their fine musicianship, arrangements, and vocals. They were friendly, fun, and convincing as they played their set. Crown of Earth next took the stage, and, while their self-titled CD is well-recorded and produced, the proof of the pudding for any band is how they interpret their recordings in the crucible of live performance. In this respect, Crown of Earth went above and beyond the recordings on their CD.
To see these guys live is a revelation of spirit, power, and the belief that rock music still matters. They are born performers with a musical prowess not usually associated with metal music. Singer Danny Knight is operatic in his handling of melody and his surprising vocal range, which is something generally not seen in the grungy, illegible grunting of many metal bands today. Knight can hold a high note for extended periods when it suits the music, and this makes him a standout not just in the metal genre, but in any genre. He has a great stage presence and delivers the songs with great energy and credibility.
Lead guitarist, Christopher Graziola, was nothing short of mercurial—and I mean mercurially mesmerizing—in his technique, style, and the pleasantly unexpected directions he took his soloing. I found it hard not to watch him closely when he was taking flight. While he is, to be sure, a metal shredder, he is also more—much more. After the set, I asked him about his influences. He shared his early days at an Upper Darby music store studio, where Pat Martino and other top flight guitarists came to rehearse, eventually inviting him to sit in and learn a couple of new tricks. Among those he cited were, just to name a few: Roy Clark and Jerry Reed (!), John Coltrane and Pat Methany, and Ywingie Maelstrom, in addition to other notable metal guitarists.
The song of the evening was Crown of Earth’s song “Born Again Warrior,” which pays tribute to America’s fallen servicemen and women, and which has gotten a fair bit of press. The band made sure to express appreciation for the efforts of our troops and gave a knowing nod to the vets in the crowd. In addition, the second track from the CD, “True Life,” finds the band seeking the philosopher’s stone, with the line “answers to the questions we all ask.” Not your standard heavy metal fare, to be sure.
In the end, the takeaways from the metal scene—and from Crown of Earth, in particular—were many. First, as much as these guys look like they’d just as soon break your leg as talk to you, this is a genuinely sweet, kind, caring, and supportive culture. They seriously believe in this culture, and welcome any and all questions about aspects of their lifestyle. Second, they like it LOUD! If you have sensitive ears, you might want to consider earplugs. Third, these fuckers play like they mean it, which was a surprisingly refreshing aspect of the night and the music. There was fine musicianship and a sense of belief in what they do, which is a welcome change from the repetitive digital drivel of today’s pop, or so much of the alt music scene, where acts sound like they overdosed on Prozac or should just stick their head in an oven and get it over with. While the piss and vinegar seems long gone from most of rock and popular music these days, Crown of Earth (and Everwar) were thankfully pissing a virile brand of vinegar.
It’s safe to say that while Crown of Earth didn’t convert me back to my early metal days, they resoundingly convinced me that there is still a vibrant, living, energetic thread running through rock music, even at this late date in the genre’s life-span. You should check out Crown of Earth. You’ll be convinced, too.
All photos Harold Sherrick/LA, CA and PA and Crown of Earth FB cover photo.
Stu O’Connor is an educator, musician, and poet who has spent his life dedicated to the power of the word, the necessity of precision in language, and the human need for story as a method of transmitting culture, ideas, and understanding. He has been published in The Mad Poets Review, New Voices in American Poetry, and the Poetry Ink 20 th Anniversary Anthology. He has an undergraduate degree from West Chester University, a Master’s degree from Gratz College, and teaches English in the West Chester Area School District. He has held an Advisory Board seat for West Chester University’s Writing Zones program and currently is an Advisory Board member for The Mad Poets Society, one of the Philadelphia Region’s largest poetry groups. He performs music on a regular basis with two bands and hosts a poetry series in West Chester called ”Living on Luck” for The Mad Poets Society.