In a time when progressive death metal is more the subject of snobbish ridicule than admiration, Black Crown Initiate have completely left themselves open to mockery as they drop their debut EP Song of The Crippled Bull
. All the hallmarks for which progressive death metal is collectively derided are found right here. Grandiose instrumentation? Check. Forays into softer “atmospheric” sections? Check. Alternation between clean and harsh vocals? Check. Squeaky clean, modern production? Check. What’s more is that it’s so uncompromising in its execution. Normally, you’d expect a newcomer to the scene to sit on the fence, or take an album or two to fully flesh out their ideas, but not these guys. Already content with their sound, Black Crown Initiate pull no punches during this onslaught of tech wizardry and ambitious song-writing. But what’s more impressive than their confidence and resolution is that they actually managed to pull it off.
Song of The Crippled Bull
opens smoothly with delicate, finger plucked guitars and some tasteful, unpolished clean singing. Before long, the death metal elements kick in and the band embarks on an unbroken journey of ferocity and dynamism. The guitar work is particularly impressive on account of its diversity. Incorporating the usual hyper-quick tremolo strumming and melodious tech riffage characteristic of progressive death, the guitar work also extends into various other styles while maintaining a cohesive edge. The softer, more sorrowful sections compliment the death metal elements perfectly, trading melodies and rhythms between differing styles to create a contrasting but stable continuation. James Dorton possesses an excellent range and sounds good on both sides of the spectrum, albeit slightly unremarkable. But what makes his vocal performance particularly impressive is the harmony between his clean singing and the guitar work. For example, toward the latter half of the opening track, the guitars fall back while the clean vocals take centre stage, with the leads imitating the vocal melody and complimenting Dorton effectively.
The production, courtesy of Carson Slovak, is relatively impressive considering the band is unsigned, rivaling the clarity sported by some of the genre’s biggest acts. However, while the clarity allows you to absorb the EP’s details with relative ease, the mixing still saps some of the vibrancy from the would-be-more elated moments. The climax to “The Mountain Top” is the most obvious example of the brickwalled mixing damaging the music. As opposed to an enthralling culmination, the result is frankly, a little messy. Minor qualm aside, the most impressive aspect of the EP isn’t its technicality, but its overall cohesion. The EP is best taken in one hit and thought of as a single song, as evidenced by ideas and themes reappearing in multiple cuts. For example, the opening and closing tracks share the same vocal melody, and the opener’s closing sequence is used in “The Mountain Top” as a chorus. Black Crown Initiate have done well to avoid the usual progressive death clichés. Throughout the EP, they manage to reuse and modify ideas while maintaining a sense of direction. As a result, this twenty-something minute song doesn’t feel that much longer than a radio edit, and thus is engaging all the way through.
Song of The Crippled Bull
is one of the surprises of 2013, due in part to this new band’s unusually strong ambitions, but mostly because it didn’t collapse under the weight of said ambitions. A twenty-minute song by an unsigned progressive death act formed only a year ago? It had all the makings of a disaster waiting to happen. Black Crown Initiate have well and truly established themselves as a force to reckoned with. Watch this space.