Justify Your Shitty Taste: Crimson Glory’s “Strange and Beautiful”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Greg Pratt defends Crimson Glory’s Strange and Beautiful.

1988’s Transcendence is a stone-cold prog-metal classic, but when it came time for a follow-up, Crimson Glory jumped the shark, or at least tried to, with Strange and Beautiful in 1991. Battling significant lineup changes (new drummer, a shift from two guitarists to one) and watching with tears in their eyes as fellow travellers Queensryche hit the mainstream pretty hard, the band prettied up for their now-infamous band pics and released a really long record full of material that is way more Salty Dog than Sieges Even, which means it was met with a smirk and a dismissive wave then I just totally forgot the thing even existed until it came up over beers with friends a while back.

And here’s the thing: Queensryche put out records that kinda maybe sorta sound like this and we all sit around and stroke chins over them, to this day. I mean, Queensryche knew how to make a six-minute song compelling, which perhaps is not Crimson Glory’s strength here, but, still.

The title track kicks things off and if this is the band selling out, they’re doing a garbage job of it: this is a 6:16 plodder that sort of sounds like a more musically adept The Cult flirting with Bang Tango after catching a particularly rousing Kingdom Come show at the local bar. No, not sort of: that’s exactly what this sounds like, and it’s cool, it builds atmosphere and a vibe; it ain’t prog metal, but it ain’t glam, it’s just somewhere in between, Queensryche-adjacent but also etching out a little place of its own.

“Starchamber” rocks, man, the band laying down some killer near-southern rock riffs in the chorus, showing some radio-hit smarts in the verses, a killer Zep (or, more appropriately, Bonham) breakdown later on. Um, I guess those aren’t reasons one would purchase a Crimson Glory album in 1991—or, ever—but I need to draw your attention to Queensryche circa 1991. If I’m going to really exhaust you, I’ll also point to goddamn “Owner of a Lonely Heart” for proof of how progressive bands can—maybe need to, certainly deserve to—stretch their wings now and again, let their hair down, have some fun, actually sell a couple pancakes, then get back to their noodling, while having the last laugh because there are always some subtle musical tricks in these breakthrough successes (of which this album most certainly can not be lumped in with, sadly).

I don’t want to think about anyone from Crimson Glory being “In the Mood,” but now I am because I’m listening to this song for the, well, third time in my life and I’m, admittedly, getting a bit exhausted already three songs in (could no one settle these guys down with the song lengths?). (Also, I’m seeing now that the streaming version on Apple Music has the songs in a different order and is conspicuously missing late-album cut “Make You Love Me,” which is an adept and hard-hitting sleaze rocker.)

BUT, the sax solo on “In the Mood” has me in the goddamn mood, the mood for some movie-soundtrack sax solo action, and now Crimson Glory have satisfied me, and that’s huge, that’s like Imperial Triumphant/Kenny G levels of fuck you I won’t do what you tell me. So if you like Imperial Triumphant, and you probably do, then I believe I’ve just deduced that you like Strange and Beautiful.

Or not, whatever, I don’t care, “Love and Dreams” is an acoustic, slap-your-hands-on-your-knees kinda-ballad, like late-album second-disc Extreme stuff, and you don’t turn the dial when “Hole Hearted” comes on Hair Nation, so why you pretending you don’t like this? Then there’s “The Chant” and its chorus, pure boardroom-brainstorm rock, and it’s like when Raven tried this shit—it’s a blast.

“Song for Angels” reaches for the skies, goes for gold, it’s the huge ballad, and we all know Midnight can belt it out like a motherfucker, and we also now all know that this song can be played as people are exiting my funeral, please and thanks. “Promised Land” rocks hard, again with the killer bluesy/southern/rawkin’ riffs, the Zep slink, the better-than-Slaughter vibe. Now, yes, I know we want Crimson Glory—the band who put out freakin’ Transcendence before this one—to aspire for more than being “better than Slaughter,” which is, admittedly, not a hugely ambitious reach. But sometimes you take what you’re given, and in this case, we were given a curio, an oddball album that should not be but rocks in a different way than what you’re expecting. This song builds to a killer climax, and I’m picking up what Crimson Glory were throwing down pretty hard here as they veered way out of their lane, reckless, out of control, smiles miles wide now that all is said and done.

“Deep Inside Your Heart,” Christ, does this album ever end? Who cares? With a chorus like this, the kinda forgettable verses can be forgiven, all can be forgiven. Crimson Glory: all is forgiven. This chorus sounds like dramatic Stryper at their dramatic best, and guess what, motherfucker? So does the guitar solo.

“Dance on Fire” is really pushing it as far as reaching for a justification designation, especially this late in the album, and… is this song… funky? Is this funk rock? Oh wow, this sucks, even if it does feature some of the trickiest drumming on the record. And “Far Away” is another shot at acoustic glory, and it reminds me of Queensryche more than anything, and we all know how good Queensryche ballads are (man, I’m saying that without the slightest hint of sarcasm, but it’s sure not coming across that way). I like it, slightly quirky, not a pandering ballad by any means, more like exploratory ’70s acoustic prog stuff.

Look, like you, I wish this album wasn’t so goddamn long, I wish Crimson Glory knew how to edit themselves a bit. But this sounds exactly like a regional opener for a band on the Empire tour, and that’s the first time in my life I’ve ever said that, which proves my point: Strange and Beautiful is a unique and interesting album, one that you hate just because of the absurd band photos going around at the time, one that you hate because Transcendence is so damn good, one that you hate just because. But now that some time has passed and we’re no longer mad at Crimson Glory, we can put on Strange and Beautiful on a hot summer evening and let the huge riffs guide us to happiness, have a chuckle at the missteps together over a beer, and enjoy the heavy rock for what it is: perhaps misguided, perhaps imperfect, but with moments of maybe-not-quite-crimson-but-still glory when placed through a different lens than the one placed over the band in 1991. It’s a super fun and fascinating record to listen to here in 2022, it’s a bit beautiful, and it’s extremely strange, and today, it’s justified.