One of the most beautiful things about progressive metal is simply how many forms it can take, from a sound that verges on rock (like SOEN) to merging the sound with acoustic – and at times atmospheric – parts, to inventing a completely new sound (like GOJIRA). BLACK CROWN INITIATE’s sound is also one that’s unique, even within the niche subgenre of progressive death metal. Invariably this leads to comparisons with the great OPETH, but the American quartet doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the Swedish giants at all, but instead focuses on technical death metal, which it mixes with acoustic parts, clean vocals, and progressive elements. The band represents a certain new wave of prog metal, if you will, and their third full-length release, “Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape,” was released today on August 7th, 2020, through Century Media Records.
The soft acoustic guitar beginning accompanied by clean vocals of “Invitation” lure in the listener as the album opens, though it isn’t long before the madness kicks in as the second verse starts with a full death metal onslaught and growls that absolutely reek of desperation in the best way possible. Managing to make one’s growls sound emotional is not easy at all and the band’s vocalist James Dorton manages it flawlessly in the opener of this record. The song continues to play with softness and rage as the chorus is catchier than one might expect from a prog metal song, while the metal parts provide lots of technicality and instantly showcase the band’s massive talent.
A sense of inevitability is sprinkled throughout the album’s second song, “Son of War.” As is often the case with progressive music, the band deals with harsh topics of life from a somewhat nihilistic, philosophical view. The drumming by Gabe Seeber is absolutely beastly and extremely tight; I can only imagine how brilliant seeing this band live would be as the blast beats join the clean vocals in the chorus. This song is contrasted, or rather referenced, in the track “Sun of War” towards the end of the record. While the songs don’t seem to have much in common, it shows the band carefully thinking the album through before finalizing everything.
The start of “Trauma Bonds” reminds me slightly of ANAAL NATHRAKH’s “Forward!” as it offers a similar feeling of miserable desperation. The track is, quite frankly, touching if you pay attention to the lyrics as it seems to deal with depression and, in that way, it’s more “brutal” than CARACH ANGREN’s horror stories or any supposedly scary black metal Satanism. The sorrowful cleans get stuck in your head easily and I wonder if this is a song that will make it onto setlists for live shows.
As the album approaches its second half, there is a delightfully surprising intermezzo in the form of “Bellow,” an instrumental piece that actually uses some form of throat-formed sounds, akin to Tuvan throat singing, quite literally bellowing. It sounds threatening, ominous and makes me think of a creature in a cave awakening in anger after a century-long slumber. This turns into “Death Comes in Reverse,” a song that has a surprisingly doomy feel. The clean vocals are delivered in a way that makes me think of a mental patient who’s not quite present in reality. This is sprinkled with intrusive whispering voices, mimicking paranoia, or intrusive thoughts. Andy Thomas, the band’s clean vocalist and guitarist, returns to his charming, warm cleans for the chorus, while the verses are growled; however, the track never gets quite as heavy as the others on the album.
The record closes off with “Holy Silence,” where the sound is actually somewhat reminiscent of Opeth, but the song is often spearheaded by heavy bass lines from Nick Shaw. The latter half of the song also features a stunning guitar solo from Thomas, which slowly fades away and makes room for the album’s final song, “He Is the Path,” a very fitting end to the album and a mirror of the album’s opener, “Invitation,” that uses the same melody, but is played in a more morose tone as the lyrics are delivered wearily.
“Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” is an album that will hopefully be talked about a lot. It offers a heavy story that feels so very real and is delivered expertly through, at times, very technical musicianship. The catchy clean choruses are contrasted beautifully by harsh, desperate growls and the instrumentation is sublime with the drums really shining throughout the entire album. This is a record that mustn’t be overlooked by anyone who appreciates prog and should be at least given a chance by virtually anyone with an open mind.
Written by Didrik M.
- Son of War
- Trauma Bonds
- Years in Frigid Light
- Death Comes in Reverse
- Sun of War
- Holy Silence
- He Is the Path
- James Dorton – lead vocals
- Andy Thomas – lead guitar, clean vocals
- Nick Shaw – bass
- Ethan McKenna – rhythm guitar
Century Media Records