For a band as new and fast rising as Black Crown Initiate, it can become a problem to manage both their musical aspirations as well as the fan expectations of their new material. Song of the Crippled Bull, BCI’s debut EP, catapulted the progressive death metal hopefuls into the spotlight, with many heralding them as the true heirs to bands like Cynic or Opeth. Three years and a great full-length album later, those bold proclamations have not cooled in the slightest. Is Selves We Cannot Forgive, to be released on July 22, enough to satisfy the needs of a genre aching for a new face to represent it?
“For Red Cloud”, the album’s inaugural track, strives to shatter any doubt. Dedicated to the late Sioux leader Red Cloud and boasting lyrics inspired by the Native American poet and activist John Trudell, the song musically merges everything unholy that death metal has ever conjured up. Taking inspiration from both the claustrophobic crunch of Meshuggah and the mid-tempo atmosphere of Opeth, Black Crown Initiate alternate between unleashing hell in the verses and mending the subsequent wounds in the melodic hook. The vocal interplay of James Dorton and Andy Thomas is on point once more and gives “For Red Cloud” even more of a contrasting yet sharp edge.
Known for their pragmatic take on both spiritual and social topics, which were present on their aforementioned, Nietzsche- and Eastern philosophy-referencing EP Song of the Crippled Bull, Black Crown Initiate shift their focus towards analyzing the faults of our current society on “Belie the Machine.” Lyrics such as “Belie the Machine that breaks you, and you are to blame” deliver a message reflecting on political influences and public responsibility. The music mirrors this sentiment in a brilliant way, counterpointing the context-heavy chorus with ferocious outbursts of pure death metal fury.
Selves We Cannot Forgive was recorded with the band’s long-time producer Carson Slovak at Atrium Audio. Still, Black Crown Initiate were able to avoid the pitfalls in production that their last outing, The Wreckage of Stars, suffered from. Whereas on their previous album the drums were at times very mechanical and the bass near inaudible, the new record sounds unbelievably organic. The mix is smooth without over-polishing the songs into vacuity. This is exactly the production a record of this calibre needs and deserves, and all contributors can feel unabashedly proud of their accomplishment.
With delicately strummed guitars, “Matriarch” makes its way into the listener’s consciousness. The bass playing switches effortlessly between warm, jazzy melodies and metallic frenzy, while the eight-string section paces ruthlessly forward in unison with the blast-beats of the drums. Highlights of this song are the deceivingly mellow middle and ending sections, alongside cleverly placed and infectious, catchy hooks. A diverse companion for a controversial topic, “Matriarch” deals with the dismantlement of patriarchy as well as physical and mental abuse. Progressive music for progressive views, so to speak. This song is a courageous move in a male-dominated scene, and a much needed one at that. More musicians need to bring up social issues such as this to lay the foundation for a fruitful, intellectual discourse.
The album then ends on a lighter, yet still sombre note with the ballad “Vicious Lives” and leaves the listener speechless, most likely with his or her jaw firmly planted on the ground. This once promising band has flourished and evolved into something more impressive and imaginative than even the most bold of us could have possibly predicted. From their first steps as a fledgling band, searching for identity in a genre so oversaturated with impostors, to the impeccable display of grandeur that is Selves We Cannot Forgive, Black Crown Initiate have vigorously outplayed most of their contemporaries and silenced even their harshest critics. With the momentum from a massive record such as this and the recent addition of the matchless Wes Hauch, one is bound to ask themselves where the limit for this band may possibly be. Because the sky probably won’t suffice.
Notable Tracks: “For Red Cloud,” “Matriarch,” “Belie the Machine”
FFO: Opeth, Rivers of Nihil, Cynic