Review Summary: A raw expression of rage and torment
For seven years, Black Crown Initiate have released albums with their unique blend of progressive death metal. Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape
is their most well-rounded and expansive record yet. Teased since September of 2019, the band released five singles in the lead-up to release day leaving few surprises. “Son of War” and “Trauma” are the two yet-unheard songs from this record, as well as the re-recorded version of “Years in Frigid Light”, the interlude “Bellow”, and the outro “He is the Path”.
Screamer James Dorton is at his best across all 9 tracks. He alternates between a deranged, seemingly out-of-control vocal style and a more deliberate expression of rage. “Years in Frigid Light” and “Death Comes in Reverse” showcase his ability to switch between the two methods. Singer and guitarist Andy Thomas offers impassioned clean vocals, interchanging softly toned moments with powerful, wailing choruses. Opener “Invitation” juxtaposes all four vocal styles heard on the album. You are lured in with acoustic guitar and Thomas singing calmly before the beat drops and Dorton is at his ferocious best. After another round of Thomas, Dorton returns with controlled rage. The album is devoid of monotonous vocals that can be found on many metal records.
The quality of the guitar work is unmistakable; their talent proven again and again, track after track. The previously mentioned Thomas and rejoining member Ethan McKenna build on the already impressive reputation of Black Crown Initiate. They display a wide range of skills across the album: the pseudo-southern opening riff of “Son of War”, the atmospheric layering on the re-recorded “Years in Frigid Light”, the quick-fire post-opening to “Sun of War”. The solos on the album are well executed and never feel like they were a forced addition, with the ending solo of “Holy Silence” standing out as particularly beautiful. Although clearly talented and capable, they frequently step back to allow other instruments to shine. Calm sections on “Invitation”, “Death Comes in Reverse”, and “Sun of War” give space for Thomas or bassist Nick Shaw to step in and add trinkets of value to the album. The ability of the guitarists to retreat creates small moments for others. Shaw doesn’t stand out frequently but shines on “Son of War” and “Holy Silence” when given the opportunity.
Session drummer Gabe Seeber does a commendable job replacing outgoing drummer Jesse Beahler. The similarity in playing style is so close you may have made it through the record without noticing that they changed drummers. While Seeber doesn’t stand out very often, he provides a solid platform for the entire record. There are flashes of brilliance (the bridge on “Son of War”) and several times he impressively matches the guitarists beat for beat (“Death Comes in Reverse”). His most notable contribution comes at the end of the “Years in Frigid Light”: jarring, stop-start guitar work leaves plenty of space that Seeber saturates with fills.
There are few lows throughout the albums 50-minute runtime. “Trauma Bonds” has a slow start but is well worth the listen by the time it arrives. The drumming is beyond competent without question but could have used slightly more creativity. The bass is frequently not present even though Shaw proves himself a talented musician, but that is the typical of modern metal. “Bellow” lives up to its name and offers little more than a brief respite from the greatness surrounding it. You are performing hairsplitting of the finest degree at this point.
In the lead up to the release of Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape
, the band put out a statement saying the record came from a place of “addiction, cancer, death, failing relationships, financial hardship, utter ruin. Hell.” All of this was channeled and poured in to create this titanic release, a raw expression of rage and torment. “He is the Path” brings us back to the album opener and sends us out with such:
“Now lord and light, he'll atone for everything
And his loathing must be for everything
He'll choose a path to the ache of everything
He is the path to the end of everything”