Black Crown Initiate made a splash with Song of the Crippled Bull, an EP that crawled deep into my skin and never left. On Selves We Cannot Forgive, they had struck gold with the balance of death metal and progressive tendencies that many would compare to the sound Gojira explored on Magma, albeit with a more melodic dissonance that made the album a delight to listen to. With this in tow, Black Crown Initiate managed to avoid the second album pitfall and now had a new direction to explore: whether their progressive tendencies could bloom into full technical mastery with an experimental edge. With the release of Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape, Black Crown Initiate has succeeded in this regard, creating an album that shows adept mastery into their craft while also revealing just how deeply emotional they can be.
First track “Invitation” starts off acoustically, meaning the listener can only wait and listen until the band decides to hit the first tones of heavy riffing and drumming for the song to truly come into its own. As a first track, it provides an inside look into what the band is showing: excellent instrumentation, compelling vocals, a melodic guitar line that seems to recall other songs in their catalogue, and an exploration into new sounds and textures that allow for the album to truly come alive. As the album progresses, there are also some interesting sounds that caught my attention the more attention I paid. For example, on “Son of War,” I couldn’t help but think of what Black Crown Initiate would sound like if they shifted into a more technical death metal sound. The bassline stayed in the background, beckoning menacingly as James Morton’s clean vocals sing about the inability to escape the future. However, as soon as the vocals shift into growls, the bassline come alive, allowing the listener to hear just how you cannot escape what has happened to you, leading you to pass whatever hell you have endured on to the next generation (which is conveniently mentioned on “Trauma Bonds”).
Then, you get something like “Bellows,” a song that is essentially Morton experimenting with different vocal settings, until those vocals turn into the most harrowing growls that seem to emphasize a sense of loss and despair that permeates the entire album. I also couldn’t help but think that he picked up how to bellow from Tengger Calvary’s Nature Ganganbaigal, as they were part of the Heavy Metal Choir in the Doom Eternal soundtrack. The energy from these literal bellows colors both “Death Comes in Reverse” and “Sun of War,” two songs that seem to go hand in hand as a duet of destruction. Considering the imagery used in both songs, it makes sense that the violence underneath the “pretty” melodies is not the focus when you first listen. On subsequent listens, you find yourself paying attention to these subtleties, reminding you the album’s heavy themes resonate even after it’s over. There were moments while listening that I found myself deep in thought regarding some of the themes here. Grief and destruction make a person bitter and resentful, and they can only choose to continue forward or end everything.
I also wanted to briefly mention the echoes of “Invitation” and “He Is The Path.” There is a subtle refrain that harks back to “Song of the Crippled Bull,” where the idea of ending everything just repeats itself, just how the crippled bull of discord and avarice will find his way into another age. On “He Is The Path,” the music is subtle and non-existent, acting more as a commentary on the aforementioned bitterness. However, once the album begins again, and the acoustic tones of “Invitation” come back into focus, you can’t help but think that, perhaps, the reason you ended up this way is because you let this fester and now you have to re-traumatize yourself to purge from it all. Now, that’s a stellar ending to an album.
All in all, Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape is a fantastic album where the band’s maturity is on full display and makes you question whether this album is an analogy to what we are currently experiencing during this time. While we shall see whether this album will be hailed as a classic in years to come, Black Crown Initiate have a bright future ahead of them, colored in the rich greens and reds of their album art.