Black Crown Initiate is an American progressive death metal band. Characterized by their difficult-to-classify but still highly accessible mixture of many different styles, they exploded from out of nowhere to become one of the fastest-rising stars in heavy music.
Formed in Reading, Pennsylvania in 2013 by James Dorton (vocals), Andy Thomas (guitars, vocals), and Nick Shaw (bass), the band quickly recorded and released the Song of the Crippled Bull EP for digital distribution; it was also around this time that they welcomed in Rik Stelzpflug (guitars, vocals) and Jeff Willet (drums), though the latter did not work out and left shortly after joining. Thankfully, Jesse Beahler left Rings of Saturn to fill his spot later in the year, which was just around the time that they were getting ready to record their debut full-length. 2014 proved to be their breakthrough year, as a very lucrative spot on the Metal Alliance tour with Behemoth, 1349, Goatwhore, and Inquisition resulted in a great deal of attention that materialized into a record deal with E1 Entertainment; The Wreckage of Stars, their label debut, came out in September of that year. Tours with Fleshgod Apocalypse, The Faceless, their buddies in Rivers of Nihil, and Unearth followed, and as of the writing of this article, they are preparing to embark on a tour with Napalm Death, Voivod, Exhumed, and Iron Reagan. Not bad for a band that has been around for less than two years. As of 2016, they are preparing to release Selves We Cannot Forgive, their sophomore full-length. Additionally, Rik Stelzpflug left at some point in the year and was replaced by Wes Hauch on what started as a live session basis before the band opted to make him full-time. After their first European tour in 2016, however, they completely fell off the face of the earth, and a fest appearance in 2017 that they wound up having to cancel was their sole flicker of activity. Various members continued to do live session work with other bands (Dorton with Replacire, Thomas with Tombs, and Jesse with Thy Art Is Murder), and while it was generally known that they weren't dead, they were not up to much. The silence was finally broken in 2018, when snippets of a new album were posted, and several appearances in the Northeast marked their return to the stage after two years. In that time, Beahler and Hauch also left; Ethan McKenna took Hauch's spot, while Samuel Santiago was brought on as their new drummer after a few live fill-ins. During their comeback tour, a new deal with Century Media Records was announced. After dismissing Santiago in late 2019, the band returned to the studio in early 2020. Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape, their first full-length in four years, was later announced for an August release.
- Song of the Crippled Bull (2013) - EP
- The Wreckage of Stars (2014)
- Selves We Cannot Forgive (2016)
- Years in Frigid Light (2019) - single
- Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape (2020)
When all is still and silent! This deep wound is exposed! With broken trope forced open! All other tropes are closed!:
- Absentee Actor: Nick Shaw is currently this as of their reemergence, as he cannot tour whatsoever and is purely a studio member until further notice.
- The Alleged Car: Their old van, "Captain Planet", so named because it didn't have a catalytic converter, thereby making it a rolling pollution generator. It was a '91 GMC that was originally a Catholic school bus that Stelzpflug bought from an Amish man for $1800, it once managed to die in the middle of Canada with no heat, and it devoured a serpentine belt shortly before they finally opted to sell it to a scrapyard, where it was apparently crushed. They went through another one that wasn't much better before finally getting a pretty decent one.
- Ascended Extra: Beahler had been a longtime friend of the rest of the band who had also played in Nightfire with them, and he wanted out of Rings of Saturn at the time that Willet was leaving. He was an easy choice for the spot. Similarly, Wes Hauch was a live fill-in before the band opted to induct him in as a full member, as was Samuel Santiago. Dorton also became this for Replacire, as he started out as a touring vocalist before being made full-time in 2018.
- Badass Beard: Dorton, Thomas, and Stelzpflug all possess very impressive beards, though Stelzpflug regularly braids his.
- Concept Album: Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape is something of a downplayed example, but an example nonetheless, as it forms a narrative of being dissatisfied with one's circumstances, desiring a change, and effecting that change, as well as one of personal accountability and coming to terms with one's faults and trying to change for the better.
- Death Metal: A big part of their overall sound, but they infuse enough non-death metal elements to not totally fit into the genre any more. "The Mountain Top", "The Fractured One", and "To the Eye That Leads You" are the closest that they come to straight death metal, but even the former has a very prominent clean chorus.
- Epic Rocking: "Stench of the Iron Age" (7:13), "Ghosts She Sends" (6:26), "The Great Mistake" (6:50), "The Malignant" (7:35), "Withering Waves" (6:02), "The Wreckage of Stars" (6:40), "For Red Cloud" (6:48), "Sorrowpsalm" (6:30), "Belie the Machine" (8:59), "Transmit to Disconnect" (6:28), "Matriarch" (7:21), "Invitation" (7:55), "Trauma Bonds" (6:03), "Years in Frigid Light" (6:43), "Sun of War" (7:14), and "Holy Silence" (7:47).
- Genre-Busting: Progressive death metal does not really adequately describe their sound, which is a mix of death metal, progressive rock, post-rock, djent, and folk metal that is best described as the result of throwing Morbid Angel, Gojira, Leprous, and Amorphis into a blender. The band seems to have acknowledged this, as the genre listed on their Facebook profile simply reads "Black Crown Initiate".
- Harsh Vocals: Dorton usually sticks to a lower-mid-ranged roar, though he occasionally moves up to a high shriek.
- Lead Bassist: Shaw is a Type A and Type D, as his basslines are a major part of their sound. He was also known outside the band for being the bassist for ultra-twee math rock upstarts Invalids, though BCI's success means that he is no longer a part of that band.
- Military Brat: Dorton.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Goes everywhere from a solid 10 at their heaviest to a 6 or 7 at their softest, often in the same song.
- New Sound Album: Selves We Cannot Forgive cast off most of the tech-death elements of The Wreckage of Stars and placed significantly greater emphasis on the progressive rock elements.
- Progressive Metal: Leans far more heavily towards progressive rock than most progressive death metal acts.
- Rapunzel Hair: Dorton and Thomas.
- Refusal of the Call: Ethan McKenna was a part of the jam sessions that Andy and Nick did that eventually led to the formation of Black Crown Initiate and helped write "Holy Silence", but when the latter two decided to turn those sessions into a band and invited him in, he had to decline due to his own commitments getting in the way at the time.
- Signature Style: Lots of choppy, occasionally djenty riffs mixed with uplifting clean vocal sections that are more complex and less pop-oriented than most harsh/clean vocal setups, in addition to lots of subdued, moody quiet sections that make heavy usage of exotic scales and the rare all-out blasting section. Multiple tempo shifts within a song can also be expected.
- Soprano and Gravel: Dorton handles the harshes and also does occasional clean harmonies with Thomas, while Thomas handles the cleans and Stelzpflug occasionally contributed harsh shrieks as well when he was in the band (as of his departure, Thomas handles at least some of his parts).
- Special Guest: Mikey Reeves has guest leads on "For Red Cloud" and "Transmit to Disconnect", while Wes Hauch (prior to joining) delivered his own guest lead on "Again". Gabe Seeber (The Kennedy Veil), meanwhile, tracked session drums on the third full-length due to Samuel Santiago's dismissal.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: "Vicious Lives".
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: An odd twist is taken on this with the final chorus to "The Mountain Top", where Dorton takes over (as Thomas did the previous choruses) and the drums quickly shift from a sparse rock beat to furious blasting.