Black Crown Initiate - “Selves We Cannot Forgive”
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Songs of the Crippled Bull blew me away. As others before me have said, Black Crown Initiate have always been a strikingly mature metal act, sounding more like long-time contemporaries of Opeth and In Mourning than the newcomers they were in 2013. In four tracks, they cemented themselves as an exciting new name in progressive metal and struck while the iron was hot a year later with The Wreckage of Stars. Somehow, I fell into the minority that didn’t really care for their full-length effort, and I’m still struggling to understand why. It’s got those Opethian overtones and that prog-metal “bigness”: everything, from the title of the record to the band’s seismic performances, feels enormous, but it all passes by without leaving much of an impression. I chalked it up to genre fatigue and an overcompressed production job in 2014, but even after stepping away and coming back just prior to listening to Selves We Cannot Forgive, Wreckage still comes across strangely lightweight.
There really isn’t much progression from Songs to Wreckage - it’s more of the same, if a little more “epic” in terms of song lengths and structures. The pace, mood, and instrumentation remains largely the same, and therefore deeply predictable. However, Selves We Cannot Forgive makes strides to differentiate itself. The band lean more heavily on their death metal influences for the heavy sections and dabble in more atmospherics for the light stuff - more pedals, more tones, etc. The harsh vocals are a notch or two more guttural since we last heard them (“For Red Cloud”), and the clean vocals are a little more natural-sounding this time around, but retain the almost autotuned veneer they had on Wreckage. I’m not overly fond of them, but they’re perfectly tolerable on the subdued “Vicious Lives” and album centerpiece “Belie the Machine,” with its climbing riffs, bright European harmonies, and groovy second half. The title track does its best to mimic that blend but pays fewer dividends being the very next track, while “Transmit to Disconnect” and “Matriarch” go the opposite route. Black Crown Initiate max out the death metal on the former, especially in the vocal department, so much so that I was convinced for a few seconds that I had missed Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation) on the guest feature list, while the latter layers some of the album’s strongest melodies over some of its thickest riffwork.
Selves We Cannot Forgive is a promising step up from The Wreckage of Stars, making that album even more skippable in hindsight. I suggest going straight here from Songs of the Crippled Bull if you want to get a proper taste of what Black Crown Initiate bring to the crowded progressive death metal table.