There must be something in the water in Reading, Pennsylvania, because between Black Crown Initiate and Rivers of Nihil, they've got modern progressive death metal covered. In the case of the former, three years as a band sure has kept them busy. In 2013, Black Crown Initiate released their debut EP Song of the Crippled Bull to critical acclaim, and ended up garnering the attention of the metal underground almost overnight. Just one year later, they signed with eOne Entertainment and unleashed their debut full-length, The Wreckage of Stars, on the world, further proving themselves to be one of the most talented up-and-comers on modern death metal's cutting edge.
Now, Black Crown Initiate is poised once again to turn heads with their sophomore effort Selves We Cannot Forgive, an album that sees the band continuing to grow in new directions while further embracing the many facets of modern metal. Opening track "For Red Cloud" is certainly a crushing affair and essentially what one has come to expect from the Reading quartet; Andy Thomas pummels and swings with down-tuned riffs, and the contrast between his cleans and James Dorton's gutturals is as prominent as it was on The Wreckage of Stars, and dare I say, even catchier. Here's a band that successfully blends melody and clean vocals into a decidedly death metal foundation, and they do so without skipping a beat.
Of course, to call what Black Crown Initiate is doing at this point merely death metal would be a disservice to them; after all, flourishes of modern-day prog metal and even tech death can be heard throughout Selves We Cannot Forgive. Perhaps the best example of this is "Again," whose off-time 7/8 groove and rich noodling shows a side of the band not seen before. Tracks such as "Sorrowpsalm" and "Matriarch" call to mind Planetary Duality-era The Faceless, and effectively succeed in pulling off what I wish the majority of other modern tech death bands would do: place a greater emphasis on composition and song structure as opposed to mindless wankery and showmanship.
As with The Wreckage of Stars, the production duo of Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland suits Selves We Cannot Forgive well once more; all of the instruments come through clearly in the mix, and the low-end provides just enough punch. This album is really a guitarist's album; the rhythm section comprised of drummer Jesse Beahler and Nick Shaw is certainly rock solid and can stand on its own, but Andy Thomas shines in particular with his fluidity and restraint on the guitar. He shows off just enough to prove he know's what he's doing, but never at the expense of the song.
Seeing how Black Crown Initiate has developed between albums is self-evident on Selves We Cannot Forgive. They've achieved more notoriety in their three years as band than many have in their entire careers, and that speaks volumes about their talent and adeptness. However, if there is a flaw with Selves We Cannot Forgive, it's that Black Crown Initiate are holding themselves to too high of a standard. They are extremely talented, no doubt, and it would be great to see them step outside of their comfort zone a little more on future albums. This is a minor qualm, however; Black Crown Initiate has proven they can be consistent with Selves We Cannot Forgive, and ultimately, it's this quality that sets them apart from a vast sea of band in an increasingly pretentious subgenre.