It wouldn’t surprise me to find the guys in Black Crown Initiate pinching themselves repeatedly right now. In the shortest time I have ever seen, they’ve gone from being an unsigned band to getting signed, gaining 20,000 fans on Facebook and heading out on tours with the likes of Behemoth, Fleshgod Apocalypse and Unearth.
Now, following on from the bands fabulously impressive four track debut EP, Song Of The Crippled Bull, The Wreckage Of Stars proves that these Pennsylvania, USA Progressive Death metallers weren’t just a one trick pony.
What immediately sticks out is how beautifully polished it is for a début album, BCI have only been a unit since 2012 yet their sound is easily comparable to a band that have been working and writing together for decades. There aren’t too many metal bands out there that sound thiscohesive on their later releases, let alone on their début.
Musically, this is a far more death metal-oriented release than their debut EP, with pummeling technical groove and snarling intent from frontman James Horton who is likely to be recognised in the future, if not far sooner, as one of death metal’s greatest – and most inimitable and diverse – vocalists. His gutteral roars sucker punching you with venom coated knuckles and the cleans and highs cleaning up the blood ready for the next onslaught.
The tempos are rich and exquisitely crafted as to be expected in superb quality Tech Death, and the fluidity of the songwriting and dynamic structures are sheer beauty, regardless of whether the passage is in either attack mode or the subsequent caress of your face. Beahler’s wild drum fills and ridiculously fast blasts provide the ongoing momentum as the guitar lines snake confidently and seamlessly throughout. For Black Crown Initiate, the motive is definitely an evolving momentum, but with no loss of interest in the movement or groove.
The Wreckage of Stars isn’t ‘heavier’ than Song for the Crippled Bull, not that it needed to be. There are just a lot more songs to digest and each one has a very specific life of its own, yet the album retains a natural cohesiveness. But just like its predecessor, its finest achievement is definitely the progressive leanings. BCI know how to prog, and they prog so very, very well.
Once again a slight eastern influence is clear, which adds yet another layer to the already highly textured use of a variety of influences and instruments. ‘The Great Mistake”, one of my favourites, with what sounds like a Harpsichord providing a twinkling rhythm line to foil the absolute filth of the groove, interspersed with what will forever become known as a BCI trademark tender interludes. There is so much in this track, you need to hit repeat to fully appreciate everything going on, yet as with their previous release, BCI remain uncluttered and precise with no part taking a front seat. This is clearly their forte and it’s one that deserves recognition.
“The Fractured One” with its chuggy gurns, rapid fire blasts and groove tempo brings on the anger, “Malignant” a 7.5 minute behemoth of a tune with acoustic Spanish inspired guitars, and clean vocal harmonies that perfectly accentuate the crushing growls and decimating backbone. It’s slightly reminiscent of a Crippled Bull track, perhaps this was one that didn’t make the initial decision for the EP although it could have because it’s a beauty and would have fitted well.
“The Human Lie Manifest” has one of the best grooves on the album, making me do pigeon head throughout, “Withering Waves” sees the introduction of a noodly technical guitar led vibe and sing-a-long vocal hooks, “To The Eye That Leads You” spews forth the most beautifully intimidating and impressively unsettlingly evil growling vocal section I’ve ever heard, this is the track that simply begs to be turned up to 11 in a darkened venue for best effect. “The Wreckage Of Stars” steps proudly into stripped back instrumental territory for the majority of the piece, before morphing into sludge and showcasing the bands ability to slow the pace with gently tempered drums. “Shapes Collapse” returns to blasts, dissonance, chugs and almost Gojira/Meshuggah-esque shifting time signatures, sweeping into delicate refrains without warning. I got completely lost in “Purge” and had to press repeat, my eyes closed and I genuinely zoned out, stunning.
“Linear” closes out The Wreckage Of Stars with a focus on haunting melody and a sense of peace and harmony. A fitting end to what proved to be an absolutely mammoth first full-length.
There’s more than enough gorgeous melodies and crushing content here to have any progressive death metal fan drooling in delight and the fact that they were able to secure a deal with E-One with only a single EP to their name tells you a lot about the level of talent. I spotted that too, when I Spotlighted the band .
The Wreckage of Stars is not a game changer in Prog Death because Black Crown Initiate cannot be imitated without it becoming glaringly obvious. And therein lies the main strength of this band. BCI are BCI. Attempt to mimic and you had better be able to do it better than them, which let’s face it, is probably not worth attempting.
Even in this career infancy, BCI have laid their cards on the table and bared their souls with their sound, and this is a sound that warrants extremely close inspection. BCI now join my list of top ten favourite bands.
The possibilities for the future of Black Crown Initiate are not just exciting, they are virtually guaranteed. Blast beats merged with droning, dirgy, sludgy and furious riffs, delicious death metal vocals, brutal drumming, rhythmically beautiful guitars and plenty of clean melodies and vocals, delivered to you the listener, pristinely gift-wrapped in immaculate production.
The Wreckage Of Stars is quite simply put, breathtaking.