blackcrowninitiateselvesPennsylvania’s Black Crown Initiate, like all good Steelmen, know how to craft good metal. Bursting from the quintet’s take on progressive death metal, you can hear inspired work from such gargantuan sources as Meshuggah, Periphery and Between The Buried And Me. They employ a variety of vocal techniques and splash them across a canvas of technical heaviosity loaded with richly-layered atmospherics.

If their 2014 debut, The Wreckage Of Stars, was anything to go by, BCI enjoy leaving scars. This sophomore delves deep into the human psyche by laying bare Man’s history of inhumanity, terror, destruction and genocide. It explores such emotions as hatred, lust, self-loathing, pain, loss, hopelessness and sorrow. The suggested end game? A period of serious introspection and self-discovery resulting ultimately in suicidal self-sacrifice. You have been warned – it cuts deep this one.

It also marks a continued exploration of their sound as they delve into their bag of progressive tricks fishing out music with multiple structures and deft segues. The vocal hooks this time tend to come from resplendent cleans rather than explosive death roars and the shaping of the songwriting anchors the BCI ship on firmer, more familiar ground. Which, of course, is not to say it won’t challenge the listener – fans of their debut, in particular should expect the unexpected.

The natural drift of the album allows for their more intense songs to play out first, so you should cover up early. With “For Red Cloud” and “Belie The Machine” punching out mammoth staccato chugs and a barking death vocal they actually echo the majestic, extra-terrestrial battering that the Texan-Maryland trio Of Legends once supplied. The lyrical wordplay agonises to the point of melancholia and keeps on heading ever downwards. Barbarous, addictive rise-and-fall choruses fire home their arrows with pinpoint accuracy. For example, “Our god is full of sorrow / Our god is one of pain”, from the intensely experimental “Sorrowpsalm”, or the brightly-coloured chorus of “We will meet at beginning’s end and start again / Just in time for us to live, we’ll die again”, from “Again”.

These boys write proper songs, not just a jarring collection of words and music, and in a genre like death metal that is a rare thing to find. Naturally, that can be attributed to their technical metal leanings and the willingness to cross multiple genres to create beauty amid the brutality. It brings them more in line with bands like Monuments and The Contortionist, yet even these comparisons don’t do them justice. Take the title-track for example. It’s a simple design with a cyclical structure onto which you can latch. Yet within lies sequencing that progresses through a gentle opening swing of piano and string arpeggio with a matching euphoric vocal clean. The explosive rip into a porcine death growl then allows the bass to bubble to the fore to meet a cushioned power rock solo. It’s organic design is truly disconcerting when you consider each part separately.

They don’t always nail it and some tracks certainly require repeated plays just to unscramble your brain and make sense of the chaos. I mean, on what planet could you find strong hits of Sylosis’ shredding meeting BTBAM’s manic seguing (see “Transmit To Disconnect”) or Skyharbor’s lush choruses folding into the brutalising death of Annotations Of An Autopsy (“Matriarch”)?

Selves We Cannot Forgive feels like BCI’s first true step into the unknown. Here, they have engaged themselves fully in the songwriting process, carving themselves an individual sound by exploring the range of their own abilities. It should see them take ever more confident, inspirational steps as they look ever deeper into their own selves.

(8.5/10 John Skibeat)