A couple of years ago some noisy factions of the Angry Metal Guy readership kicked up a stink by our lack of coverage of the debut LP from promising Pennsylvanian deathsters Black Crown Initiate. Following the over-the-top acclaim for The Wreckage of Stars, a fine full-length debut loaded with potential, the boys return with the crucial and much anticipated follow-up, Selves We Cannot Forgive. Sophomore albums are often tricky propositions, especially in the wake of a well received debut, with expectations heightened and added pressure difficult to squash. The Wreckage of Stars nicely developed the distinctive modern metal formula the band established on their Song of a Crippled Bull EP, combining technical and aggressive modern death metal with clean vocal hooks and a strong progressive bent. Black Crown Initiate’s ambitious sophomore album pushes boundaries and looks set to polarize their growing fanbase, proving a challenging stumbling block for some listeners.
Trading much of the in-your-face aggression and speed for a more restrained, melodic and introspective delivery, the transformation from a death metal focused outfit into more of a muscular death-tinged prog metal band, finds Black Crown Initiate delicately treading a fine line between experimentation, progression and accessibility. On one side of the coin you have a young band willing to fuck adventurously with their own system, but on the flipside the edgy potency and directness that made The Wreckage of Stars so refreshing has been smoothed over and progified. Selves We Cannot Forgive features significantly more prog-foolery and clean melodic passages, cushioned by heavier bursts of knotty prog metal, yet it’s also a darker, more complex turn from the band. Execution may be inconsistent and occasionally jolting, but when Black Crown Initiate hit pay-dirt their hooky formula remains compelling. “For Red Cloud” welds elements new and old into a rugged, discordant structure that pushes the right buttons dynamically. While album highlight “Transmit to Disconnect” is complex and tightly performed, contorting, blasting and grooving in refreshingly heavy and dynamic ways (more of this please), topped with a killer solo. It’s the most complete song on the album and a promising sign for the times ahead.
Epic and ambitious, “Belie the Machine” aims high and mostly succeeds, featuring a extremely catchy clean chorus, impressive guitar work and noodly explorations anchored by grinding, dissonant metallic assaults. The vocal ratio of growls vs cleans has also balanced out, with the sweetly addictive clean vocals of guitarist Andy Thomas more pronounced. Though his melodies sometimes veer into overly airy territory, threatening blood sugar levels, he’s responsible for some rousing moments. However the melody-heavy tunes that exemplify the album’s overall cleaner restraint, such as the melancholic “Sorrowpsalm,” title track and meandering closing ballad “Vicious Lives” are a mixed bag. While the songs don’t always stick the guitar work is inventive, technical and consistently impressive, merged into less predictable and experimental song structures. Frequently strange, off-kilter harmonies and interesting melodies are undercut with jaggedly dissonant metal riffs, tasty solos and fistfuls of meaty groove. “Again” even shows-off some primo jazz-infected shredding with a cool improv feel.
Black Crown Initiate’s evolving and ambitious vision is still coming to fruition and Selves We Cannot Forgive’s numerous bright spots are darkened by jarring and uneven songwriting. With former The Faceless guitarist Wes Hauch recently joining the fold it will be interesting to see where the band develops their sound from here. Lengthwise the album is slightly shorter than its predecessor, however the individual songs average out longer, with several guilty of overstaying their welcome. Selves We Cannot Forgive also benefits from a fuller, tighter production job buffered by a solid mix. Unfortunately the compressed mastering squashes the dynamics considerably, restricting the breathing space required for the increased soft-loud dynamics and quieter passages to reach full potential.
Despite ample strong points and inspiring ambition, Selves We Cannot Forgive is a slight letdown in the wake of the impressive The Wreckage of Stars, requiring more focus and cohesion. However, I remain optimistic about the band’s future and the album’s depth and subtleties have potential to grow on me in the months ahead. With more time to develop their new-found style Black Crown Initiate could very well win me over more convincingly next time around. Until then, Selves We Cannot Forgive is a solid, flawed and occasionally very good album that ultimately signals a transitional phase for a band experiencing some growing pains.