Black Crown Initiative come highly recommended and I was looking forward to hearing the album. As regular readers will know, I normally like to listen to the album a few times first, get familiar with it before penning a few words. My initial reaction to Selves We Cannot Forgive was WTF!?! Not in a bad way, just in an almost overwhelmed; “what am I listening to” way. It would be fair to say the range, variety, musicianship and presentation of this album took me by surprise. From the great artwork on the album to the description of the band I had formed an opinion of what to expect but the strength of those Black Crowns Initiative’s second album is that it is much larger than just one genre and will confound a lot of expectations. It is nothing if not ambitious.
I think the key to the sound of this band lies with the two vocalists, one black metal growl the other a fine melodic metal singer. This in itself is far from unusual but add to that a band capable of Steve Vaiesque solos, to progressive metal progressions and the brutality of death metal, all in the same song and it makes for one of an exhilarating record least of all an interesting one. Take the 3rd track “Again”, this probably sums up this record for me in one song. The songs starts with some great melodic guitar riffs, with a nice chord progression sitting beneath it. Andy Thomas, our clean vocalist starts up for a verse before the band breakdown into a progressive rock middle, a funky bass and light drums accompany an astonishing Steve Vai solo segment. The band then kicks back in, this time with more intensity and the lead vocals are now taken over by James Dorton, the song has gone up a level, the music is more intense, James Dorton is one hell of a shouter and when Thomas hits back in with his clean vocals that level of intensity it kept, although we are back to melodic metal. It’s almost as if the legacy of Dorton, haunts ever sound, at any moment that roar could be heard and the song could change direction in a way that will take your breath away. Brilliant song, well-crafted and executed.
I really like “Belie the Machine”. Its 9 minutes long so the band have every opportunity to create a big atmosphere and try out their hand at this multi-facetted approach they have developed. An almost spooky intro has time to develop. There an emptiness here, a feeling almost of abandonment. Which soon turns into terror when the tone changes into some black metal and the Dorton is the first vocalist introduced. Some quite ear curdling growls introduce the chorus. This is like a nightmare you want to escape from. So it is with some relief when Thomas takes over vocal duties for a while. That brutality is soon back though. The length of this song allows the band to explore musically different aspects to their armour and towards the end of the song the atmosphere is back and it turns into a pretty epic outro.
There’s certain production techniques that work to give Black Crown Initiative their distinct sound. Album opener “For Red Cloud” is a good example. Clean vocalists Thomas vocals are overlaid on top of each other to give it quite a distinct sound. It would be most comparable to Queensryche “Empire” album and to me it gives out a similar vibe on this track. It’s actually perhaps a good comparison point for the band at times the guitars have that similar almost metallic sound to them. Queensryche with a touch of brutality perhaps, a totally fallen empire has been created here.
The virtuosity of the band is demonstrated again in “Transmit to Disconnect” which is almost like a Death Metal Mars Volta, almost hardcore in its conception. In fact both bands have the similarity of being excellent musicians, able to cross the progressive rock/jazz background in to a whole host of genres. The way the drums and rhythm of the song supports the growled vocals here works extremely well. The vocals themselves almost seems to be several different voices at once. The middle of this song again gives the band time to demonstrate what they are capable of with another great progressive solo.
Overall this is an album that is at times brutal, at times clever, it can create an atmosphere and kick down the door in the same breath. Ambitious, grand, arrogant and magnificent. Surely this is what we want from all our bands; to push the boundaries and to at least momentarily confuse us. The more time you spend with this album, the more you will find behind these layers of confusion.