Black Crown Initiate – Expect the Unexpected

Sunday, 28th September 2014

With many bands, it takes years and years to truly make a name for themselves. But for some bands, they form just the right concoction and seem to gravitate towards the spotlight from the beginning. Black Crown Initiate is one of those bands. Last year’s Song of the Crippled Bull truly exploded onto the metal scene, and for good reason. The band’s progressive blend of everything from Opeth to Between the Buried and Me to Cattle Decapitation was completely mesmerizing. Their ability to emotionally resonate and still retain scorching riffs was astounding for a young band.

Getting the opportunity to open up for the Metal Alliance tour this year as an unsigned band continued to foster the notion that there was something special in the air with this band. Shortly thereafter announcing that they had signed with eOne Music and were writing their full length album furthered the band’s upward momentum. The Wreckage of Stars, which will be released September 30th, shows a band that has continued to progress in massive strides since their debut EP. Masterful transitions, sweeping choruses, and pummeling riffs set the stage for what is easily one of the strongest releases of 2014. This is a band that is going places fast, so when the opportunity arose to chat with guitarist/vocalist Andy Thomas, how could we decline? Andy was kind enough to tell us all about the new album, touring, and even how to maintain your beard! Read on…

Dead Rhetoric: From what I’ve gathered, you’ve been in a number of bands before Black Crown Initiate that never really took off. Is it true that Black Crown Initiate was your last real attempt at starting a successful metal band?

Andy Thomas: It was my last attempt in that I finally said, and maybe it’s selfish, but I’m not going to compromise with other people anymore. I’m not going to compromise a vision with someone else’s. I’m going to go into the studio and pay to make a professional sounding album and it’s going to be exactly what I want. And if it does nothing, it does nothing. But I’m going to do that once in my life. That was what it was. In a real way, I was ready to move on.

Dead Rhetoric: Song of the Crippled Bull, you wrote the whole thing right?

Thomas: Largely; our bass player Nick [Shaw], he really helps compositionally. He has a really good ear for transitions and for making songs flow. For the most part, Nick helped me structure everything. The music was written by me, but Nick was a huge help in the structuring process. He’s a great musician.

Dead Rhetoric: I was at Saint Vitus when you first played what would become “Great Mistake,” and I believe you had said that song was more collaborative. Was the rest of the album written that way?

Thomas: Yes. The rest of the album, musically was Rick [Stelzpflug], Nick, and myself. The cool thing about it is that Rick and I have played guitar together since 2005 in different bands, and Nick and I have been playing since 2008-2009, so our compositional styles and what we want to hear is very similar. It’s very refreshing because it’s the first time I’ve ever had that. The bulk of the lyrics, with the exception of a few verses here or there, were handled by me. I have a very specific way of writing lyrics and vocal patterns.

Dead Rhetoric: So how do you think that you have changed from the EP to The Wreckage of Stars? Did the amount of touring that you have done shape that at all?

Thomas: No doubt. I would say, and I’m fairly certain I can speak for everyone in the band, but I’m definitely a better player. When you are thrown out on stage in front of hundreds of peole, opening for Behemoth, and it’s your eighth show as a band, it would be hard for you not to get better. Or at least a little bit better. So in that way, our chops are definitely a lot tighter than they were. Another thing that we have learned is the art of being on stage and being in front of people. That’s a very challenging thing, because everything that you rehearse and everything that you think is going to happen, doesn’t happen. Your guitar feels completely different, your strings are made out of spaghetti, you are sweating everywhere, people are throwing shoes at you…basically everything that can go wrong will, and you still have to entertain a crowd. So we are significantly better at that than we were, but that’s something I hope to get a little better at still.

Dead Rhetoric: I’m assuming you had a number of offers on the table with your EP. What made you go with eOne in the end?

Thomas: eOne seemed the most legitimately interested in us. It sort of felt like they weren’t trying to screw us at all necessarily. Though the music industry is what it is. We felt that eOne would be a good home for us. The other thing about eOne is that they didn’t have tons of extreme bands, and we felt like maybe we could fill that niche for them.

Dead Rhetoric: You weren’t signed before you got onto the Behemoth tour. How did you manage to pull that off, getting on to such a high-profile tour without having any label backing?

Thomas: Our manager Steve Seabury booked that tour. And Dan Rosenblum, whom we work with as well. They asked, “Do you want to open for Behemoth” and we said, “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” And the rest is history I guess. It was an amazing experience.

Dead Rhetoric: And that was what led to getting signed?

Thomas: It certainly helped. Taking a band that played seven or eight shows and throwing them in front of hundreds of people every night and seeing if they survive. It definitely helped.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been touring pretty much ever since. What keeps you going at this point?

Thomas: This is what we want to do. With all this shit happening, I would tell my parents that this was all I wanted to do, and they’d say, “But yeah, what are you really going to do?” I worked jobs and taught guitar, but this is want I wanted to do. So what’s keeping us going is that this is what this is what we were put on this Earth to do, so it’s what we are going to continue to do.

Dead Rhetoric: The Reading Rainbow tour starts up soon. Who was responsible for coining the name of that tour?

Thomas: I don’t know, but I saw it and thought it was brilliant. I’m pretty sure it was someone in Rivers of Nihil. It’s witty and it made me laugh.

Dead Rhetoric: Getting to the big and important question, how long did it take for you to grow out your beard?

Thomas: Two and a half years. It grows pretty quick, but I come from a line of hairy gentlemen.

Dead Rhetoric: That must help then; mine has been going over a year and is nowhere near the length of yours.

Thomas: Give it time. Do you groom it properly? Conditioning is crucial; that’s the trick. And use an Afro pick on it when you are in the shower, when conditioner is in it and it’s wet. But be gentle and go from the bottom up, just like you would comb long hair.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel is the defining characteristic of Black Crown Initiate, besides the beards?

Thomas: The defining factor I think, is emotion. We might not be the most technical band, but we are very emotional and it comes from a very deep place. If I had to guess, I would say that is what people latch onto. I don’t want to sound like a whiner or anything, but there’s a lot of pain in those albums.

Dead Rhetoric: Are the lyrics pretty personal to you then I take it?

Thomas: Absolutely. There’s a lot of symbolism and metaphors, and I’m not really concerned that people even really understand what I’m talking about. But if you can derive some type of meaning from it, then I’ve done my job.

Dead Rhetoric: Both Song of the Crippled Bull and The Wreckage of Stars have a mellower end to them. Do you like having that kind of closure to each album?

Thomas: That’s tough to say. The EP was definitely cyclical, but as far as the album goes, the last track, “Linear” is very triumphant-sounding musically and there’s some major keys going on but lyrically there’s no closure. And that’s one of the reoccurring themes on both the EP and the album is that everything is completely cyclical. Everything that you fear and everything that you loathe will return over and over again. There’s really no closure.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you say about The Wreckage of Stars to people that have heard the EP repeatedly and have heard “Great Mistake” and say, “Well, it sounds a bit different.”

Thomas: First of all, if you’ve listened to the EP in full, then you know that we are prone to sound very different from minute to minute. I would say that, oh man I’m going to make a pun; you might have made a mistake if you thought the album was going to sound the same as the EP. Although stylistically there are some things that we do that are just kind of our musical DNA that you can just tell it’s us. As Chuck Schuldiner said, you should expect the unexpected with us.

Dead Rhetoric: Finally, how did you come up with the name, Black Crown Initiate?

Thomas: There’s a spiritual leader in Tibet, that wears the black crown. It’s the Panchen Lama I believe, that wears the black crown as a symbol of aid and benefit to humanity, and his ability to help. I’ve always been fascinated with Eastern spirituality, as well as other things, so I’m not necessarily attached to any that. But I like the symbolism and I like a lot of it, but the name; basically because I’m a Westerner and my world view is not very good and rather bleak, I think the only way that you are going to help anyone in the modern world is to show them how sick they are and how sick we all are. So the name is sort of representative of that. A desire to expose people to how fucking sick I feel, and how sick anyone with a brain should feel.

Black Crown Initiate on Facebook