Throughout the 1990s, Cuneiform Records has released essential Happy the Man material that had been overlooked by the band's label Arista in the mid-'70s. Death's Crown presents three archival recordings made in 1974 and 1976 in Happy the Man's rehearsal room. The sound quality is rather poor (the voice is particularly lost in the background), but it is still enjoyable and the beauty of the music makes up for the inconvenience. The record opens with the title track, "Death's Crown," an 11-part suite of 38 minutes. Composed in 1974, "Death's Crown" was originally a multimedia performance including dancers, actors, and a light and slide show. The piece has been performed on numerous occasions, and the band later integrated some parts into its live show (as an example, part five appears on the Live CD as the track "Open Book"). It is the tale of a man's journey into the other side of life, sung in the most emotional way by Frank Wyatt. The main musical theme, which pops up here and there in different forms, is of astonishing strength, even for Happy the Man. The parts segue into each other seamlessly and the listener comes back on the ground after an amazingly short 38-minute experience. The whole piece conveys the lyricism, finesse, and instrumental richness unique to Happy the Man. The CD is completed by two other tracks, a pre-album version of "New York Dreams Suite" (nine minutes) and the unreleased "Merlin of the High Places" (seven minutes). Death's Crown is more than an archival document: It represents the crucial creative stage of one of America's best progressive rock bands.
AllMusic Review by François Couture