Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape

Rating: 4/5
Distributor/label: Century Media Records
Released: 2020
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Nick “Bass” Shaw – Bass,
Andy Thomas – Guitar,
James Dorton – Vocals,
Ethan McKenna – Guitar.


1. Invitation
2. Son Of War
3. Trauma Bonds
4. Years In Frigid Light
5. Bellow
6. Death Comes In Reverse
7. Sun Of War
8. Holy Silence
9. He Is The Path


It’s surprising, sometimes, how secular certain circles of metal can be. The idea that a band may want to incorporate further sounds into their fold beyond that which they started as, or beyond their genre’s roots, seems like a reasonable desire, yet it is sacrilegious to some. Thank goodness, then, for the progressive subgenre: a place where bands can be what they want to be and the boorish simpletons of the world can leave well enough alone to crack rocks on their skulls. Beyond the elitism, the progressive subgenres allow for the creation of, arguably, far more interesting music than the more straight-faced genres out there. Enter BLACK CROWN INITIATE.

On their third album, “Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape”, the Reading, Pennsylvania natives double-down on their progressive death metal sound that has garnered acclaim across their career so far. One argument against the more progressive side of music is the occasional lack of refinement – that any idea can be implemented regardless of suitability – yet that is something that will hold no sway here. If one word could be used to sum up the album, then “balance” springs to mind – everything feels finely poised and in perfect harmony with one another. The band eschew the more outlandish ideas that prog-influenced bands may indulge themselves in to keep things on a more even keel, and it’s to the benefit of the album.

The album’s light and shade, be that from the cleans of Andy Thomas against the growls of James Dorton, or the clean/acoustic guitars versus the crunching riffs, makes for a compelling listen, with each song carrying a story-like quality about it. In fact, there is more than a mere passing reference to progressive death metal masters OPETH in the albums before their journey to 70s prog on ‘Heritage’. The indications of this are immediate, with “Invitation” opening in resplendent acoustic lusciousness, before erupting into hellish death metal fire that grinds and pummels in equal measure. This acoustic/distorted isn’t the blueprint with which BLACK CROWN INITIATE stick to throughout, however, with the weird MIKE BREAZEALE-influenced vocals of “Bellow” and the soft, piano-based closer “He Is The Path” providing bonafide examples of the band’s love of the prog.

Yet it’s the one-two punch of “Trauma Bonds” and last year’s album-teasing single “Years In Frigid Light” that show the band in full flow. It has been said many a time across all written metal journalism, that melody and clean vocals are often considered a form of blasphemy, yet in Thomas, BLACK CROWN INITIATE have a clean vocalist that is every bit as vital as his harsher vocal brother in Dorton. The fretboard-snaking verse riff of “Trauma Bonds” sits below Dorton’s caustic growl before giving way to a positively summery chorus that is accentuated by Thomas’ soaring vocal refrain – you may not like melody, but this will get lodged in your brain.

Contrast this, then, with its darker follow-up, “Years In Frigid Light”. The single version of last year may have been the world’s first taste of ‘Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape’, but the version here is a different beast. It feels chunkier, angrier and more menacing – Dorton’s growls are deeper and add to a sense of irrepressible dread. Where “Trauma Bonds” echoes summer, “Years In Frigid Light” is arcane winter (and not just from the title) – the droning chords of the chorus and Thomas’ wistful vocals make a stunning contrast and cements the track as the album’s highlight. Whilst the likes of “Sun Of War” and “Holy Silence” equally soar and slay, there’s a certain magic at hand here. Prepare to have a new prog metal staple.

It wouldn’t be good for us all to like the same things, but for the world to be a little more tolerant and accepting of others and their likes/dislikes for art, we would be able to celebrate the good stuff more. And ‘Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape’ is, indeed, the good stuff. It has the all the chunky riffs and technical flourishes to get hardcore metalheads whetting their whistle, whilst those of a proggier disposition would enjoy the mellower moments and varied approach to songwriting. BLACK CROWN INITIATE have always shown a knack for writing concise, hard-hitting progressive death metal, and on their third full outing, they show further refinement to their work that begs to be heard.

Shakespeare once wrote ‘uneasy is the head that wears a crown’, but this Reading collective sure makes a mockery of that as they cement their status as progressive death metal royalty with a fine showing in ‘Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape’.