Viking Cowboys from Hell?

VIKING CROWN: Unorthodox Steps Of Ritual

Release year: 1999
Label: Hammerheart Records

In this day and age, it is a widely known fact that Phil Anselmo of Pantera/Superjoint Ritual/etc. fame is a fan of extreme metal, and it’ll take you mere minutes to find out that Viking Crown started out as his solo project, with Killjoy from Necrophagia later joining in on the fun (and Anselmo, in turn, joined Necrophagia). However, back in the late 90’s, when this album was first released, information was more scarce and as such it came as some surprise to many that “Anton Crowley”, sole member of Viking Crown, was in fact Anselmo. Some were delighted, some disgusted. Later on, when the secret was out, copies of this album came with a sticker saying it was Anselmos’ project – I wonder if it boosted sales at all?

Aside from the true identity of Viking Crown, there was otherwise too an element of sham to the entire project. For one, the back cover says the album was recorded in 1994 but released in 1999. I have my doubts to the veracity of that. Rather, I’m guessing Anselmo tried to pull a Kanwulf here. You know what I mean.

With that covered, the big question is: how does Anselmo do with his take on black metal?

The short answer is: abysmally.

Unorthodox Steps Of Ritual sounds like a clumsy first demo. Might be intentionally, might be genuinely the best Anselmo could muster up to. I guess we will never know.

First of all, true to the style of “grim underground black metal”, or more like trying too hard to be the aforementioned, the sound is a swirling and unbalanced mess with thin, out-of-tune guitars and for the most part little to no bass. Anselmo’s vocals alternate between the sound of a constipated goblin shrieking and non-descript grumbling. The programmed drums sound absolutely artificial and fake. The one redeeming factor in the soundscape are the synths, which have a rather effective, cheap and lo-fi horror tone to them and actually manage to create a little atmosphere here and there.

The song structures range from the wildly incoherent to the mildly incoherent. At the worst of times Anselmo segues from section to section with no transitions, narily repeating a riff two times in the same song, and without any consideration for continuity or coherence of any kind. At the best of times, the songs sound like they were hacked together from parts that are only somewhat incompatible. It’s hard to believe this wasn’t intentional; after all, this is a guy who’d been performing for years with an acclaimed band who testifiably could write a song. Either way, it’s not effective, it’s just pointless.

The end result is a bewilderingly amateurish, pointless and silly album. Any way you look at it, this is bad. I mean, sure, it’s raw and chaotic, but in a bad way. It reminds me a bit of Beherit’s chaotic Messe Des Morts, but a hundred times worse.

Equally bewildering is the fact that the last song, Invocation Toward The Conjuration Of Black Souls, is actually good and has basically none of the flaws of the other songs except for the muffled sound. Kind of like Anselmo wanted to say, “after all this – just so you know, I actually CAN write a decent black metal song!”

Summa summarum, the only value Unorthodox Steps Of Ritual has is curiosity value for diehard Pantera/Anselmo fans. Otherwise, this is a very futile album best left as the afterthought in the history of Pantera it deserves to be.


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