Review: “Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” by Black Crown Initiate

After a pair of critically acclaimed albums in 2014’s “The Wreckage Of Stars” and it’s follow up in 2016’s “Selves We Cannot Forgive“, Reading Pennsylvanian Progressive Death Metallers Black Crown Initiate can be forgiven for taking their time over getting to their third studio record “Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape“, which finds them with a new label home in Century Media. There has been a line up shift since the last record with ex-The Faceless rhythm guitarist Wes Hauch exiting stage left in 2018 after a two year stint. He’s now in Devin Townsend‘s touring band and has been replaced by Ethan McKenna. Drummer Jesse Beahler has also left after five years, to join Australian Deathcore titans Thy Art Is Murder and his replacement, Samuel Santiago (Gorod,¬†Beyond Creation,¬†Arkhon Infaustus) has also departed after just 12 months. That leaves the band as a quartet with no one currently officially gracing the drum stool and leaving Nick “Bass” Shaw (Bass), Andy Thomas (Guitars, clean vocals) and James Dorton (Vocals) as now the founding fathers. That’s not problem at all, they are after all the original band who recorded their debut EP “Song of the Crippled Bull” back in 2013. “Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” was recorded with Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland (Rivers Of Nihil, August Burns Red, Lorna Shore), who have done the same for the band on their previous recorded works.

Having several singles in advance of an album can be a double edged sword. Like the trailer for the next Summer Blockbuster at the cinema, they can skew your impression of what the album is going to sound like, often picked to boost pre-order sales and build hype. On a nine track album to have four pre-release singles seems over kill and avoiding them if you’re waiting to listen to the album in it’s entirety can be troublesome, but there is rightfully plenty of hype around this album Black Crown Initiate have earned that with their previous works. Open with acoustic strains of metronome like precision “Invitation” and some clean vocals that suddenly burst into violent life after 90 seconds or so gives the start of the album a real shock factor, like a claymore exploding under foot and throwing the World upside down. From that moment, the band build in sweeping waves of majesty to the eventual close with elongated instrumental sections in movements of both dark and light. There is even time for a pair of false endings within this one and the dirge laden final breakdown section is a tour de force. “Son of War” is littered with short bursts of double kick patterns and blast beats as the drum films blend Black Metal and Death Metal styles with hints of Jazz routines in the fold as well. It’s going to take someone of the stature of Alex Rudinger or Chason Westmoreland to be able to play a track like this. As with most of the album, this one cuts between the clean and unclean vocals with perfectly executed moves that follow the narrative perfectly.

Taking a more melodic path “Trauma Bonds” speaks of drama, pain and anguish without that introspection while stepping up into some Obscura esq moments with effortless abandon and consummate ease. It dissects the listenable and the complex as if it were an apple, satisfying both equally without need to compromise. The album version of “Years in Frigid Light” is 27 seconds shorter than the one that you may have previously heard and there are influences of older Opeth throughout it that linger as the music evolved throughout with raw aggression and beauty going hand in hand with the high quality of the musicianship. The chorus is as beautiful as any of those on this album while the crushing, repeating staccato riffs of the closing section break the sing-a-long into a circle pit. “Bellow” is the mid album break, repeated Death Metal roars from Dorton with no other sound, as if preparing his voice for the next battle. There are flavours of Fallujah in “Death Comes In Reverse”, its space age synths giving it a dark science fiction feel before they are dragged out by the heavier riffs and Dorton’s somber vocals while the guitars almost sound like steel drums at the very end.

Sun of War” doesn’t share any of the DNA of the earlier “Son of War“, instead casting an enthralling soundscape of its own with the interweaving clean vocals of Thomas and unclean brutality of Dorton acting as the two heads of a dragon that combine to complete a picture that would only be half as good if it was a choice between one or the other. The shifts between the blinding rage of those uncleans and the softer more harmonious cleans is balanced on a knife edge and the music is in no way compromised in order to do that. There is no style over substance here, this is as they intended it with each part being a glorious addition or not at all. “Holy Silence” offers a few odd time signatured riffs with some Fit For An Autopsy styled moments that bludgeon between the soaring choruses of resplendent beauty. The mid track breakdown section is immense before dropping out to acoustic guitars in the most unexpected twist in the tale that delivers more when you thought you’d heard it all. A somber Doom inspired moment in “He is The Path” has violins that accompany the dull ache of the vocals as they play out, a fade to black as the curtain comes down at the end of the scene [8.5/10]

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

Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape” by Black Crown Initiate is out 7th August via Century Media

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