Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape

Pennsylvania’s Black Crown Initiate have always had something special since they first emerged in 2013 with their debut EP, Song of the Crippled Bull. Though conceived as a studio project with no specific plan to evolve into a live band, nobody can deny that their two albums to date are impressive efforts that contributed much to the contemporary prog metal scene. Now back with their first record since 2016, it’s rare for a reviewer to look for faults in an album, but that is what we will do here, for this is a stunning piece of work that gives Haken a run for their money as the best release of 2020.

If Black Crown Initiate did not exist, you would need to invent them. Imagine taking the rhythmic precision of Gojira, the low-tuned riffs of Meshuggah and the bewildering invention of Mastodon and combining these components in a science lab. This is what we get with Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape, an album that strides through the landscape of idols and admires them rather than smashing them up in a fit of monotheistic chauvinism.

Where to begin with the individual tracks? You might decide to listen to them on shuffle mode, but it’s best to experience this record as one journey from beginning to end. It’s doubtful you’ll hear a better opener all year than ‘Invitation’, which starts with a delicate folk guitar and demonstrates sensational interplay between death metal and epic alt-rock throughout. They position themselves exactly where sophisticated metal needs to be in 2020 with the drum triplets and vicious guitars competing with a glorious chorus that could rival anything from the golden era of grunge. ‘Trauma Bonds’ is archetypal Smashing Pumpkins before a monumental metal riff kicks in and takes us through death growls and drop-F guitar chugs reminiscent of Meshuggah’s Koloss album. Every track has something unique. ‘Holy Silence’ is like Alice In Chains with blast beats and Periphery’s trademark syncopation yet ends on a dreamy prog-rock fadeout like classic Led Zeppelin. The impatience to press the repeat button is as intense as the bleak lyrical themes of the record. This is a tragic world where God abandons man and watches him destroy himself and others in a futile struggle for existence. ‘Son of War’ encapsulates this Kafkaesque nightmare with its double-tracked baritone harmonies that ghost in and out like the spirits of dying souls.

The obvious peers are Rivers of Nihil and Intronaut with Mastodon positioned as the godfather of their triumvirate. But James Dorton’s aggressive vocals are way ahead of his contemporaries. You can hear the flecks of foam leave his mouth as he punctuates each word with sharp intakes of breath like an asphyxiation victim. Andy Thomas’ melodic voice is a sensational addition to the band’s repertoire, giving them a range just two semitones lower than Jeff Buckley. On closing track, ‘He is the Path’, they embrace the haunting reverbs of Tom Waits and leave you wondering what just happened over the course of fifty minutes.

This reviewer started by announcing his appraisal would look to identify flaws with this record. As you can tell, there are none. Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape is a magnificent work of art that deserves to reverberate far beyond the world of extreme metal. A Grammy nomination surely awaits this Pennsylvania quartet after this effort.



Release Date: 07/08/2020

Record Label: Century Media

Standout tracks: Invitation, Trauma Bonds, Holy Silence

Suggested Further Listening: Mastodon – Crack the Sky (2009), Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name (2018), Meshuggah – Koloss (2012)