Released: 2014, eOne Music
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
It didn't take Reading, Pa., quintet Black Crown Initiate long to become one of technical/progressive death metal's “it” bands. After just a year together, the band made a lot of people sit up and take notice with their rather fantastic four-track EP Song of the Crippled Bull last year, which drew rightful raves from many corners.
A year later, they've got themselves a big label deal with eOne – home to Overkill, Ace Frehley, Black Label Society and Crowbar – and were already on the road with fellow Reading rising stars Rivers of Nihil building more buzz before their debut full-length dropped. The Wreckage of Stars, however, proves itself to be a bit too much of a good thing.
Where the 22-minute Crippled Bull seemed relatively tidy in spite of the complexity of the music and the progressive ambitions of the musicians playing it, Wreckage - at 10 songs and clocking in at over an hour - seems bloated and overdone. Like Between The Buried and Me, these guys stitch together part after part until what might have been fairly formidable songs often become a tangled mishmash struggling for direction.
“Great Mistake” offers a haunting, almost beautiful opening to the album with its lurching riffs and growl-and-howl vocal interplay, but the band drop a two-minute deathcore side trip into the middle and completely take you out of the moment. The title track, too, seems a pleasant jazz-tinged instrumental until it devolves into a Devin Townsend-like freakout of screaming and bombast at about the five-minute mark. Talk about a rude awakening.
“Malignant,” on the other hand, is all over the map – an acoustic intro that leads into My Arms, Your Hearse-era Opeth epic death metal then off on a clean-sung prog foray, then a bit of jazz noodling, then a bit of all of the above all rolled into one, etc. It’s a 7:36 Frankenstein’s monster of metal, and assorted bits and pieces. Of the more epic tracks here – and about half crack the six-minute mark - “Withering Waves” is the most effective, contrasting its brutish death metal and James Dorton’s vomit-launch vocals with shimmering, ethereal guitars and soothing clean singing while keeping the wankery largely in check.
Wreckage's comparatively leaner and meaner material is much more satisfying. “Shapes Collapse,” “The Fractured One” and “The Human Lie Manifest” are absolute tech-death barnburners that still dazzle with their limber tempos and fiery guitar parts, but manage to stay on course and not drift off on confusing tangents. The all-death metal “To The Eye That Leads You” is downright terrifying, as Dorton reaches deep down into his gut for a Godzilla-sized roar to complement drummer Jesse Beahler’s strafing runs.
While it’s easy to appreciate Black Crown Initiate’s ambitions on The Wreckage of Stars, it’s also easy to be overwhelmed by them. The album is disjointed and unwieldy where it could have been awe inspiring. It still impresses, but also screams for some moderation. Hopefully with a bit of seasoning that will come.