When we had last left Pennsylvania’s Black Crown Initiate, they had dropped their first full-length release, 2014’s incredible The Wreckage of Stars, one of the finest death metal albums in recent years. Not only did this album seem to capture the initial spirit of their previous EP, it showed that the band was getting increasingly focused as both individuals and as a collective. Now add shredder-extraordinaire Wes Hauch (ex-The Faceless) and plenty of live performances to the band’s repertoire and you’ve got plenty of reasons to start chomping at the bit. Though it’s got to be said, Selves We Cannot Forgive is probably not going to be what most fans of the band will initially expect. This record definitely shows Black Crown Initiate’s drive to continue expanding their sound and style, showcasing some of the band’s most puzzling and unique material yet. Just don’t expect to get nearly as many hooks this time around, and expect to be challenged as a listener.
For better or for worse, Selves We Cannot Forgive is a much more cryptic and introspective listening experience than their previous two releases and lacks the immediacy and instantaneous catchiness those two brought to the table. This is probably best exemplified by comparing this album’s opening track to “A Great Mistake” from their last album. Though “For Red Cloud” is a tremendous song that weaves through murky death metal grooves before unloading a chorus that’d rival classic Borknagar, it’s just way weirder than before and doesn’t feel like the instantaneous opening track one might expect. Now, that’s not to say the clean vocals in tracks like “Sorrowpsalm” and “Matriarch” aren’t some of Andy Thomas’ absolute best performances to date; they’re just buried underneath much more dense songwriting and orchestration. This album seems to borrow much more from elements of progressive rock/metal staples like Tool and Deliverance/Damnation-era Opeth than ever before, placing a much heavier emphasis on lush atmospherics rather than all-out riff assaults. The album even closes things off with the band’s most sparse and convincing clean song to date, the amazing “Vicious Lives.” Black Crown Initiate haven’t completely abandoned their tech-death roots by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely taken a back seat this time around and is used much more as a songwriting tool instead of as a default. “Transmit to Disconnect” still goes absolutely ham and will surely get pits opening up across the globe.
The most impressive aspect of Selves We Cannot Forgive has to be the way in which Black Crown Initiate have managed to combine so many seemingly-dissimilar ideas, sometimes even all at once. Though maybe not overtly, the band has taken a lot from both Tool’s and Intronaut‘s playbook of locking in multiple grooves on top of one another, particularly in tracks like “Again” and the intro to “Belie the Machine.” As far as both tightness and chops go, these guys sport one of the most impressive rhythm sections in the subgenre right now. Jesse Beahler’s drum performances throughout the album are as nuanced as they are savage and are often complemented incredibly well by bassist’s Nick Shaw’s knack for laying down a great pocket and introducing captivating melodic ideas simultaneously. In a genre known for guitars taking the spotlight almost the entire time, it’s always refreshing to hear a band that’s a little more democratic in terms of giving up the spotlight. “Belie the Machine” and “Transmit to Disconnect” should still satisfy those looking for flurries of blazing guitar work, but don’t get used to hearing that for the whole album.
Much like the artwork for Selves We Cannot Forgive, it’s not something that can’t be completely understood from just a passing glance. It’s ultimately a much darker, more somber, and overall bleaker batch of material than ever before and might even turn off a few fans due to the album’s much more unpredictable song structures. This album will undoubtedly take several playthroughs until a lot of the true moments of greatness start to shine through, but it’s a much more rewarding experience for doing so. But hey, progressive death metal has always been built around creating rather impenetrable walls of sound. Selves We Cannot Forgive does meander a bit during the middle of the record, but it’s bookended by simply jawdropping material that show the band are clearly on their way to even greater things and are really starting to carve out a sound that’s all their own.