(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Black Crown Initiate from Reading, PA.)
Black Crown Initiate have been something of a favourite of mine (and, if I’m not speaking out of turn here, the majority of the NCS crew in general) for quite some time now and, as such, Selves We Cannot Forgive (released today on eOne), has been sat at the top of my “most anticipated” list for 2016 ever since it was first confirmed.
Thanks to my moonlighting for Terrorizer I’ve been lucky enough to have access to the album for quite a while now, which has allowed me the opportunity to really dig deep into its many layers, as the Pennsylvanian quintet have clearly gone to great lengths to push themselves and their music down an ever-proggier path on their second album.
But… and it’s a surprisingly big but (and I cannot lie)… despite all of its impressively progressive inclinations and some undeniably heroic highlights, it’s hard not to view Selves We Cannot Forgive as the band taking one step backwards for every move forwards they make.
Selves… is certainly a darker, more elaborate, and more ambitious album than The Wreckage of Stars, make no mistake, and the Reading riffians seem to have made a conscious effort to expand their sound in a manner designed to provide a purposefully less immediate, but altogether deeper, experience for both themselves and for their fans.
In fact, not only is the musicianship as unimpeachably precise and powerful as ever, but a number of these songs – namely the multi-faceted “Belie the Machine”, the spellbinding title-track, and the torrential techgasm of “Matriarch” – see the Prog-Death powerhouse really hitting a new level of complexity and creativity that’s simultaneously as heavy, as melodic, and as technical as anything else you’re likely to hear this year.
Unfortunately, now that I’ve had sufficient time to sit with the album and digest it fully, these changes strike me as something of a double-edged sword, as the band’s ambition occasionally seems to outstrip their execution, resulting in an record which, for all its skilful construction and clear conviction, too often demonstrates a niggling lack of cohesion and an uneven sense of identity.
It’s an impressive sight from a distance, of course – a veritable edifice of deathly power and progressive ambition – but up close you begin to see the joins where the parts have been welded together, their puckered seams lacking the fluidity and finesse to fully disguise their disparate origins.
That doesn’t necessarily make this a bad album, of course. For example, for all that “Sorrowpsalm” seems content to simply and shamelessly amalgamate elements of Tool and The Faceless (and it’s far from the only track that seems a little overly in thrall to Michael Keene and his autotheistic practices), it’s still a heck of a song, even if it does wear its influences a little too boldly for my liking.
But issues like that one do end up making the album feel unexpectedly disjointed, and there are moments where the band’s rush to be more overtly “progressive” finds them tripping over their own feet a little bit, with both the slightly sluggish “For Red Cloud” and the oddly unfocussed “Transmit to Disconnect” (and, to a lesser extent, the otherwise killer “Belie The Machine”) undercut by some rather rough and jarring transitions between sections, as if certain elements had simply been shoved together without adequate consideration for flow or function.
But, despite these criticisms, I don’t want to be overly negative about this album. After all, although it isn’t exactly the game-changer I’d/we’d been hoping for, their second full-length doesn’t see Black Crown Initiate losing any ground either, and I’d rather focus on applauding them for their ambition than admonish them for their imperfections.
Yes, there are times when the band seem to lose track of their own identity a little, and, yes, there are a few too many awkward and/or forgettable moments for comfort (“Again” is a little too stock for my liking, while emotive, but under-developed, closer “Vicious Lives” seems to cut short just as it’s about to peak properly), but there are also some impressive high points here that hint at yet more untapped potential lurking beneath the surface, if only the band can find a way to harness it correctly next time around.
Still, as it stands, and this may not be a particularly popular opinion, Selves We Cannot Forgive is a laudable but flawed attempt at becoming something greater, one which aims high, shoots for the moon, but ultimately falls a little short of its goal.