Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape Review

Black Crown Initiate began their career with such promise and explosiveness with the one-two punch of their Song of the Crippled Bull EP and The Wreckage of Stars LP, that the more experimental and progressive 2016 album, Selves We Cannot Forgive, was a minor disappointment. Although a solid album with scattered high points, a lack of cohesion and mixed experimentation found the album falling short of expectations. Nevertheless, Black Crown Initiate remain a talented entity in the modern progressive death landscape. Following a four year period since their sophomore release, the band return with the anticipated Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape. Naturally I was intrigued to discover whether the growing pains of their evolution subsided since the last go around.

After the first full listen, it becomes quickly apparent that Black Crown Initiate‘s progressive death fusion is realizing its potential on this latest endeavor. The songwriting is more fluent, the hooks lodge deeper, and overall an increased sense of cohesion and adventure permeate the album. A strong opener is always welcome and “Invitation” largely delivers a satisfying punch. The cleanly plucked and softly crooned intro possesses a serene folk-prog spirit, before the band’s modern prog-death style kicks into gear, under a barrage of groovy riffs, busy rhythms, and deathly growls. An interesting, corkscrewing structure, top-notch musicianship, and trademark soaring clean vocal melody ties the song together nicely. “Trauma Bonds” features a beautifully rendered proggy jam and intricate guitar work at its beginning, before unfurling into an epic, well designed progressive death beast, unleashing a deft balance of melody, groove, complexity, and heaviness. Certain songs rise above the pack, but aside from a couple of interlude cuts, there is ample substance and enjoyment on offer.

Over the years Black Crown Initiate‘s prog inclinations have become more prominent, but the balance feels more harmonious on this occasion. Importantly, the heavier elements are ample, boasting genuinely hefty strikes in the riff and vocal department. James Dorton’s meaty, decipherable death growls impress, while Andy Thomas’ (guitars) clean vocals mostly hit the mark, especially during the numerous standout choruses and emotively sung passages littering the album. These passages consistently provide a key hook to latch onto with each song (see “Years in Frigid Light” and “Holy Silence” for finer examples), but importantly they are not a crutch to mask weak songwriting. This is evident in the generally interesting, well constructed compositions. Back album cuts “Sun of War” and “Holy Silence” up the ante, ensuring quality is well dispersed throughout the album. The former breaks the mold somewhat with jagged, djentified riffage, combining with beautifully melancholic clean vocal hooks. Things really explode with a violently engaging climax, featuring blasts, bouts of searing aggression, and a gnarly solo. Meanwhile the soaring melodics and intricate dimensions of “Holy Silence” cuts a tighter angle into their progressive side, capped with epic soloing.

Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape finds Black Crown Initiate taking a significant leap in the right direction, though the album is not always rosy. Although far from a sonic abomination, the album’s twisting dynamics, textures, and varied tones are sold short by a less than ideal mastering job, while the album’s 50 minute length is a touch overstretched. The unusual “Bellow” and closer “He is the Path” largely consolidate my general disdain for interlude tracks. Whether the strange vocal effects emanating from the former has a deeper emotional depth or meaning, it remains an odd and distracting piece that disrupts the flow of the album. These relatively minor strikes prove detracting elements. Meanwhile, the clean vocals have the potential to divide listeners, and may prove a little light for some folks. Though personally they are an impactful, infectious and emotive element of the band’s sound.

Following the dip in quality of Selves We Cannot Forgive, I am pleased with the return to form and refinement of the progressive side of Black Crown Initiate‘s formula, and they operate on a different level to other like-minded contemporaries, such as Rivers of Nihil. Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape is an engaging, playful, and adventurous progressive death platter, which shines the light on Black Crown Initiate‘s compositional and instrumental talents. Yes, there are some rough spots and bloat, but Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape is merely a whisker away from greater honors, with longer term gestation and replay value to decide whether the album eventually reaches those higher planes.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media
Websites: blackcrowninitiate.bandcamp.com  | facebook.com/BlackCrownInitiate
Releases Worldwide: August 7th, 2020

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