I reviewed Crematory's fifteenth album, Unbroken, in 2020 and found myself only half convinced by their particular brand of gothic industrial. I liked the songs with their NDH hooks and grand gothic sweeps. What I wasn't so fond of was the death growl of Gerhard Stass and, as that album ran on, I found that I preferred the clean voice of Connie Andreszka, officially a backing vocal but which did take over at points. It didn't bode well to find that Andreszka left the band last year, as did bassist Jason Matthias. He was quickly replaced by Patrick Schmid but it doesn't look like Andreszka was. His role is just gone.
Stass is my biggest problem with this sixteenth album too but he didn't annoy me as much. I ought to go back to Unbroken because it feels like he's toned down his growl a little bit. Having plenty of grit on the more driving songs like Break Down the Walls works well enough, even if his accent is a little obvious when he's singing in English. He feels more natural when singing in German, which is a language that always benefits from a little grit. I do miss the dual vocal styles, Felix Orschel not being particularly obvious in a guest role.
Musically, the songs do much of what they did last time out. Sure, there's an overt evolution in the band's sound over their three decades, but it's not so fast paced as to be particularly noticeable in the couple of years between albums. This is still gothic industrial, with the latter aspect shifting to NDH more and more as time goes by. Rest in Peace has perhaps the most incessant drive of any of the songs here, though it hints back to the death metal origins of the band at points too, but it's a common approach here, evident on almost everything. It's very obvious in Das Ende too.
The gothic is aspect harder to define, as it shows up mostly in the sweep nowadays, some melodies and some keyboards. Even there, Crematory sound more like a goth rock band who heavied up in a NDH fashion rather than a band who started heavy and shifted into gothic metal, which is exactly what they did. They're on Napalm Records now but they're approaching gothic metal from a very different point to many other Napalm acts I fell in love with a couple of decades ago, like Tristania or Sirenia. Even thinking about that, I wonder what a female vocal would do to the band's sound. I can't see it working at all. This is gothic in tone, not in elegance.
Even with Andreszka gone and nobody taking his place, I think this is a step up on Unbroken. It's a shorter album but not so much to be a problem; that last one was highly generous and this is more reasonable at forty-eight minutes. It doesn't outlast its intentions and the eleven songs vary their approaches enough for it to remain fresh throughout. In fact, I wonder if it gets better as it goes. I liked early songs like Break Down the Walls and Rest in Peace, but it seems to pick up with Tränen der Zeit halfway through, a bouncy number with a reliable riff, strong keyboard melodies and a more understated vocal from Stass.
From that point on, everything feels like it's a little more emphatic, a little more focused, a little tighter in intention. I don't think a song like Until We Meet Again is really any better than a Break Down the Walls, but it seems to settle into its groove easier and more naturally. Zur Hölle, with its staccato riff and capable backing vocal, is even quicker to the mark. Again, it's no better or worse than any song from the first half but it thinks it is and sometimes that matters. Maybe Forsaken is a better song, because it's one of my highlights, especially because of Katrin Jüllich's keyboards, a touch that's almost Abba-esque.
All I know is that, each time I listen through, I kind of like the album early on but find myself liking it more and more as it moves forward. Tränen der Zeit perks it up and, by Forsaken, I'm totally on board. However, when I eagerly replay again after Das Ende, well, der Anfang is back to the kinda sorta again and I run through the cycle once more. So this is a 7/10, one up on the previous album, but I'm still interested in figuring out the direction Crematory is taking and whether it's going to impress me more or less.