Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape (Album Review)

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Seven years ago Black Crown Initiate released their debut EP “Song of the Crippled Bull” to an immediately warm reception, which kicked off their gradual rise from the underground into the spotlight. In the seven years since, critics have lauded praise on the band’s slow-growing discography while trying to find a fitting label for this rising star of the American metal scene. Fitting firmly under the progressive death metal umbrella while also skirting the likes of core, djent, and doom, Black Crown Initiate have followed “Song of the Crippled Bull” through with two full-length releases. Their third full-length album, “Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape,” sees the band’s sonic palette expand further than ever over the course of nine songs that are as technically impressive as they are emotionally compelling. Progressive tendencies are amplified by a variety of influences across metal, further augmented by a touch of the avant-garde for an unpredictable and riveting listening experience. 

Commanded by a combination of clean vocals and two very adept guitarists, there is no stone left unturned in the journey across landscapes and genres that await listeners in the album. Rarely does a record demonstrate such tangible heart and soul in its expression, an amplification of atmosphere that unifies the feats of musicianship with artistic intent with seamless grace. Epic vocal highs balance against rightfully ambitious riffs, the latter of which are headed by Andy Thomas in spectacular dexterity. The melodies of “Invitation” are structured in such blossoming tides that they are poised to sweep the unaware listener right off their feet, driving the album into the fires of extremity after a false acoustic lull. Such a dynamic kick-off is just the start of the show, as “Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” continues its mounting venture into excitable pondering.  

The violent highs and gravelly lows of “Trauma Bonds” are an example of Black Crown Initiate’s firmly found maturity since their previous effort “Selves We Cannot Forgive.” A complete embrace of modern metal brushing on the edge of core, lively riffs lead into a clean chorus just moments after a chest-shaking refrain on drums. Coupled with the howls from vocalist James Dorton – whose delivery in the lower spectrum reminds of Moonspell’s Fernando Ribeiro‘s deep crooning -, the distinct pivots from his vocal lament bare the heart of “Trauma Bonds” out in the open. This track follows on the heels of “Son of War,” which sees a distinct inspiration from doom in its much subdued opening passages before unleashing the full scope of its speed. Though it bears a similar name, later featured “Sun of War” is brighter in both its hook and throughout its electrifying main course to give the album two strong pillars of unwaveringly brutal foundation.  

“Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” Album Artwork

While such tracks could be considered well within standard fare for Black Crown Initiate, the midpoint of the album draws them apart from the dense pack of progressive death metal in its current form. “Bellow” is as artistically eccentric as it is unsettling, featuring deep moans permeating through a dense aural fog in rolling waves of discontent. Following track “Death Comes in Reverse” is undoubtedly one of the album’s crowning achievements in both its diversity and impassioned delivery. Audible bass notes mingle with a dual vocal exercise, Dorton’s growls forming an insidious undercurrent beneath Thomas’ almost mournful song. There is a sense of exhaustion among the instrumental prowess, as though the listener were left stranded under a hot summer sun, pressing in perpetuity towards a destination on the hazy horizon. 

Opening with acoustic notes as well as closing with them, such intentional motifs demonstrate that Black Crown Initiate are not so much cloaked in extremity as they wield it with fierce precision. “Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” dives deep into the turbulent waters of death metal, but brings with it the guiding light of well-composed technicality. Instrumental proficiency and consistently balanced attention between both lead and rhythm guitar build out memorable melodies without sacrificing the album’s technical reach. All instruments are crisp in their roles – with particular passion imparted on Thomas’ lead guitar and the massive unrelenting attack of the drums double bass. “Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” is a careful bridge between the palatable intonations of modern metal and the more whimsical articulations of the genre’s artistic potential in instant appeal for fans of metal who defies standard categorization. Yet another demonstration of the dogged climb to ever-greater acclaim, this record is Black Crown Initiate at their most mature with promises of a bright future ahead.

Released By: Century Media Records
Release Date: August 7th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Nick “Bass” Shaw / Bass
  • Andy Thomas / Guitars
  • James Dorton / Vocals
  • Ethan McKenna / Guitars

Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” Track-listing:

  1. Invitation
  2. Son of War
  3. Trauma Bonds
  4. Years in Frigid Light
  5. Bellow
  6. Death Comes in Reverse
  7. Sun of War
  8. Holy Silence
  9. He is the Path

9.0 Excellent

Extremity which spans the gap between modern brutality and technical instrumentation is the cornerstone on which “Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” is built, its depth expanded by an expert devotion to sonic variety. Skillfully crossing the boundaries of that which is epic and aggressive, Black Crown Initiate offer up an album with timeless and tantalizing appeal.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 8.5
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2 Comments

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    An articulate and impassioned review, I agree with everything stated. IMO they have set themselves apart by making their expression of emotion so compelling. They’ve managed to keep the entire album engaging, which I definitely felt was an issue with their last two LP’s. Hopefully they will start getting the level of recognition and success that their talent deserves!