Review Summary: Black Crown Initiate return with a renewed vigour and, building on the success of their debut, release a great albeit not particularly flawless sophomore effort.
Every time I scroll through Facebook, you can pretty much guarantee that I'll see at least one comment claiming Black Crown Initiate to be the "new kings of extreme-tinged prog metal". As you can imagine, it gets pretty annoying after a while. I enjoyed the band's debut quite a bit. It was a promising, solid and consistent set of songs which were all particularly well-executed and enhanced for the listener's aural pleasure. Yes, the album went on to be among my favourite metal records of 2014, as it did for many others, but in no way did I use that as a mere excuse for claiming the band picked up where the harsher side of Opeth left. Black Crown Initiate have only existed for three years, released two full-length albums, and played a handful of shows with some of metal's biggest names to date. Call this a promising start to a (hopefully) promising career, but don't put a proverbial crown on the band's head.
Having said that, Black Crown Initiate's latest effort, Selves We Cannot Forgive
attempts to build on the success of the debut and certainly comes close to exceeding the quality of previous material, but as a record, it seems a little jumbled. For one thing, half of the album is more about the band focusing on the more technical aspects of their musical palette rather than offering a more natural songwriting process for the listener to truly absorb. I'll be honest, this only affects certain sections of songs such as opener "For Red Cloud" and "Sorrowspalm", both of which mostly rely on a mid-paced groove which grows wearisome towards the end. However, with technical musicianship comes a brilliant amount of confidence. In regards to songwriting, the band sound more confident here than they have ever been before. The instrumentation seems more fluent and controlled, and despite there not being as much variation as on The Wreckage of Stars
, here the musical execution is pulled off aplomb. What unfortunately lowers the overall quality on this record is the more filler-based, repetitive material in "Belie the Machine" and "Matriarch", two songs out of eight which, in all honesty, are slightly above average tech metal. Yes, they are solidly performed and written with a strong hint of confidence, but they never quite reach the same levels of accessibility or uniqueness as on Selves We Cannot Forgive
's stronger tracks.
Following on from this point, there are moments where the band seem to be tugging on heartstrings and succeeding most of the time. For example, "Again" refrains from the more technical side of the rhythm section, and results in an ultimately melancholic sound, complete with paradoxical placement of the clean vocals (on the first two songs, harsh vocals precede the cleans, whereas here it's the other way around). The harmonic guitar work near the beginning is beautifully nostalgic, and represents the band's growing confidence in producing a memorable, easy-going soundscape for the listener to connect with almost instantaneously. Elsewhere, as in the title track, this same mood is amplified by an almost Gothic piano sound, acoustic guitar sections and some of the heaviest riffs to have been penned by the band thus far. Whilst versatility seems very much absent when judging the album as a whole, these two aforementioned songs strongly offer the two stand-out highlights of Selves We Cannot Forgive
The final song on Selves We Cannot Forgive
is a little polarizing, given that, despite its placement on the record, it really doesn't feel like the closing moments of an album-there's no "tie in the knot", so to speak. And yet, as with Black Crown Initiate's debut, there's a certain charm here that compels the listener to further investigate the band's rise in confidence as well as their ambition in producing a more cohesive albeit still sophisticated progressive metal record. The sophomore effort thus details the band's growing career as that of a still promising one, hopefully in the future to develop into something masterful.