Black Crown Initiate‘s newest offering, Selves We Cannot Forgive, is a challenging record. Much like fellow tech-death heavyweights Fallujah, they weave together elements of outrageously heavy death metal with sprawling, pretty soundscapes to create drifting, thick, mood-setting songs that both pummel and soothe, often alternating between both over the course of 5+ minute tracks. It’s not a fun record, but it is refreshingly bold.
Opener “For Red Cloud” marries tons of blast beats to frequently shifting vocals: James Dorton utilizes mid/high screams, guttural growls, and even a grand, clean chorus. The riff is appropriately odd and masterfully accents the aggression, giving the album a very strong start. “Sorrowpsalm” enters on a trudging riff that helps calm the frantic drumming and bursts of aggressive chugs and opens up into a spacey, clean chorus. “Again” uses a surprisingly upbeat, angular main riff but has an off-kilter drum rhythm to offset it. It starts with clean vocals as well, and works better than previous songs’ attempts at clean moments. A very proggy guitar solo and bass riff during the pre-verse gets heavier in the middle without sacrificing the proggy nature, and surprises with clean fadeout.
“Belie The Machine” creeps in on a dark, clean riff, soon joined by a twisting bassline, coalesces into the heavy main riff. Black Crown Initiate even sneak in a clean, drifting chorus before going back to smothering heaviness. “Belie The Machine” morphs into a more epic song over time; still heavy, but slowly becoming more melodic, then back to heavy for the finale, and at 9+ minutes, it feels surprisingly short. “Selves We Cannot Forgive” changes things up with a gorgeous, plaintive piano intro, and focuses on a dark, melodic vocal, but near the 2:45 mark, they charge in with a guttural burst of screaming to remind you this is still a metal album. “Transmit To Disconnect” is perhaps the heaviest song on the album, but lacks hooks or progression and thus falls flat.
“Matriarch” is an album highlight, and quickly explodes into a wild, swirling riff made of pure chaos, with the intense vocals to back it up. It alternates between crushing riffs and giant choruses, interspersing moments of calm and quiet to amplify the heaviness, including a long instrumental passage in the middle driven by keys and a meandering bass lead. The end sinks a bit under the overuse of melody, however. Closing track “Vicious Lives” is really just a minimalist extended outro with clean vocals but not much substance. There is also a vinyl bonus track, “Fallen Angel,” that is a complete misstep: primarily a bass-driven pop song, it lacks any hook to make it stand out, and outstays its welcome well before any elements of metal are added.
Selves We Cannot Forgive will take some time to digest, but for anyone looking for a heavy dose of prog in their metal – especially thanks to Nick Shaw’s excellent bass work – it’s hard to find a better example.