Contemporary prog-metal at its heaviest and finest
Reading, PA death metal band Black Crown Initiate have had a very lucky start since their inception in 2012 with a highly successful debut EP, handful of equally celebrated albums, and numerous tours with death-metal icons and pioneers such as Behemoth, Deicide, Exhumed and even the UK’s Napalm Death. Breaking their four-year musical silence with a new release, Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape, Black Crown Initiate come full-fledged with a gargantuan-sounding metal album that still embraces their unique ambiance and post-progressive metal sound that they are best known for.
Right from the get-go, the two-note acoustic guitar riff at the start of “Invitation,” which is brought back briefly towards the end of the track, helps shape up what defines both the genre and album: playing metal unconventionally. Don’t be startled, metalheads. There are plenty of blast beats, guttural vocals and heavy riffage to last a lifetime just in the opening track, let alone the rest of the record.
Building off those exact features, the tracks “Son of War” and “Years in Frigid Light” are shaped by an odd-metered distorted riff that builds up into a haunting landscape of heaviness and gloom. However, like the track “Trauma Bonds,” which is sandwiched between the two aforementioned selections, there is an awful lot of clean sections, both in vocal styles and dynamics. This is nothing new to progressive and post metal, as prog metal bands such as Dream Theater and Fates Warning have been flirting with such since the 1980’s, and more contemporarily, bands such as Gojira and Opeth have opted to also incorporate non-heavy parts, such as ambient sections, dynamics, clean vocals, etc.
Hell, even the the middle track that segues into the latter half of the record, “Bellow,” is literally a two minute, reverb-drenched throat singing inclusion, something unfamiliar to bands who strictly adhere to heavy music. The following track, “Death Comes in Reverse,” centers around a hauntingly dissonant yet nostalgic riff, before a chugging breakdown section and subsequent thrashing verse part.
The two longest tracks on the album, “Sun of War” and “Holy Silence,” are quite epic and embrace Black Crown Initiate’s love for ambiance and atmosphere as much as full-born heaviness. The instrumentation that follows the clean section in “Sun of War” is almost djent-inspired, drawing equal inspiration from Periphery, as well as spastic metalcore such as The Dillinger Escape Plan. However, Black Crown Initiate stretch these possibilities for technical ability and diversity, opting to be tastefully restrained when the music calls for it, and likewise, go off when needed.
“Holy Silence,” not the first but definitely not the last song title with the implication that the album might have some religious connotation to it, showcases many familiar instrumental techniques, such as Gojira’s infamous “pick scrape/slide” style, contrasted by full-on acoustic sections that are supported by dreamy keyboard layers and emotionally compelling guitar work, before fading in volume into oblivion, for a little longer than necessary. Albeit, patience is a virtue and perhaps the dozen or so seconds of white noise between each track is intentional.
“He is the Path,” possibly a reference to salvation, closes out the record with, “He is the path to the end of everything,” which suffices as its own path to the end of the journey that is Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape. Overall, it is an equally impressive and fascinating record that pushes the normalcy of heavy music and metal, as well as the artistic merit of a dark atmosphere that is done very well, without being over-the-top and/or alienating.