I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Crimson Glory - "Strange and Beautiful"
Atlantic Records, 1991
11 tracks, run time: 58:40
Crimson Glory weren't quite household names as the 1980s came to a close, but they were definitely an underground metal band on the rise. Clad in mysterious silver masks that hid their faces and led by a helium voiced vocalist known only as "Midnight," this Florida-based five piece racked up rave reviews for their first two albums (1986's self titled debut and 1988's Transcendence), and amassed a cult following which hailed them as the next big thing in progressive metal, ready to sit alongside such giants as Queensrÿche and Fates Warning.
Crimson Glory signed a major label deal with Atlantic Records prior to the release of their third album, Strange and Beautiful, and it seemed like the sky was the limit.
...so what went wrong?
By the time Strange and Beautiful came out in the Summer of 1991, there had been major changes in the Crimson Glory camp. They'd ditched the gimmicky science-fiction inspired silver masks (which was probably a good move), and slimmed down to a four piece. Newcomer Ravi Jakhotia took over the drum stool from Dana Burnell, but rather than hire a new second guitarist to replace the departed Ben Jackson, founding member Jon Drenning handled all the six string work on S&B by himself.
Along with the revamped lineup came a totally revamped sound. Crimson Glory's first two albums were classy, highly polished power metal, but Strange and Beautiful was an entirely different beast: moody and atmospheric with a heavy Led Zeppelin influence. It's not a bad album in and of itself, but it bore virtually no resemblance to the metallic majesty of their prior LPs. Strange and Beautiful was probably the most shocking stylistic shift by a metal band since Celtic Frost's legendary glam-thrash disaster, Cold Lake, from three years earlier.
Like many C.G. fans, I was disappointed by Strange and Beautiful when I first heard it in 1991. I simply couldn't understand why a band would throw their "old" sound completely out the window like this. Many reviews I read at the time let the album's title do their work for them -- they agreed that the disc was certainly "Strange," but hardly "Beautiful!"
However, I re-visited Strange and Beautiful recently for the first time in quite a few years, and found that it's aged surprisingly well. I actually liked it better this time around than I did when it was current.
The biggest difference between Strange and Beautiful and CG's prior albums is in the drum sound. New guy Ravi Jakhotia's tribal-infused percussion gives Crimson Glory an earthy, entirely new groove that they'd never had before. The album as a whole is more rhythm-based than guitar based, which works great on some songs, but not so much on others. While previously CG were comparable to Queensrÿche and Iron Maiden, Strange and Beautiful seems to be trying to cop some of the experimental, genre-bending vibe typical of many early '90s hard rock bands like Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden, or Saigon Kick.
The title track which opens the album is a chunky, Zeppelin-ish rocker with Midnight wailing in fine style, leading into "Promise Land," which gives Jakhotia his first chance to show off with some seriously cool percussive workouts. The gospel-influenced backing vocals are a nice touch, too. "Love and Dreams" is a pleasant, but fairly standard mid-paced ballad, which leads into the album's major highlight, "The Chant." This catchy, raunchy rocker was co-written by song doctor Marti Fredericksen (who would go on to write numerous hits for Aerosmith, Carrie Underwood, and more). Strange and Beautiful could've used a few more tracks like this one.
The bass-heavy metallic epic "Starchamber" is the only song with any hints of the early C.G. sound, and "Song For Angels" is a lovely piano ballad that showcases Midnight's amazing vocal abilities. The rest of the tracks are a mixed bag of awkward, hormone-fueled hair metal ("Dance on Fire," "In the Mood") and overwrought ballads ("Deep Inside Your Heart" and the closing "Far Away") that aren't terrible, but aren't very memorable either.
"Strange and Beautiful"
Crimson Glory fell apart shortly after the release of Strange and Beautiful. Midnight abruptly left the band, and former Michael Schenker Group vocalist David Van Landing filled in for a brief concert tour before they announced their breakup.
Crimson Glory has attempted several comebacks since then, ignoring the Strange and Beautiful era and going back to the power-metal sound of their first two albums. Vocalist Wade Black appeared on 1999's Astronomica album, followed by an aborted reunion with Midnight in the mid 00's.
Midnight passed away in 2009, which led to a tribute concert at that year's ProgPower metal festival in Atlanta. Crimson Glory performed with a cast of guest vocalists that included Zak Stevens of Savatage, Lance King of Pyramaze, and Ronny Munroe of Metal Church. One of the participants - a previously unknown vocalist named Todd La Torre -- impressed the band so much that he became Crimson Glory's new lead singer in 2010. Unfortunately, work on a new album with La Torre stalled and he eventually left to join Queensrÿche, who he continues to front to this day.
Crimson Glory may be gone, but their catalog continues to intrigue and fascinate their loyal fan base to this day. While it may not quite on "Par" (inside metal-nerd joke) with their earlier works, Strange and Beautiful is worth re-assessing after all these years. Time has been kinder to it than I expected.
© 2021 Keith Abt