Black Crown Initiate – Reflection on SelvesSunday, 10th July 2016
If you can think of bands that have constantly pushed themselves to move forward over the last few years, Black Crown Initiate has to be one of the first to come to mind. Exploding onto the scene with their self-released Song of the Crippled Bull EP, they then jumped onto their first tour – The Metal Alliance Tour, all without a label backing. Of course, it didn’t stay that way long, with eOne Music snatching the band up and then releasing their first album, The Wreckage of Stars. The band has been out on the road seemingly since their inception, but took the time out earlier this year to deliver their second full-length, Selves We Cannot Forgive, which is set for release on July 22.
Having established themselves as a band not set to repeat themselves, Selves We Cannot Forgive solidifies the act as willing to take risks. A more bleak and somber BCI appears, a reflection of the times, as guitarist/clean vocalist Andy Thomas states below. It’s also a more personal and progressive sound as well, honing in on song structure and writing some of the band’s longest material to date. Read on for plenty of elaboration on the above, as well as the band’s (perpetually) busy tour schedule.
Dead Rhetoric: Selves We Cannot Forgive doesn’t come across as the logical follow-up to The Wreckage of Stars. Do you think anyone will be surprised at what you have done this time around?
Andy Thomas: I’m curious as to why you would say that, not that I don’t agree, but I’m curious as to what you mean specifically by that…
Dead Rhetoric: Going off from the debut, I’m not sure if dark is the right word, but it seems more somber…more progressive.
Thomas: Yeah, I think that’s a fair assessment. With the EP, it was like – we want to come out here, and from the get-go let people know that you aren’t going to get an AC/DC album from us. I mean, I love AC/DC, so it’s nothing bad about them – but we set out from the beginning to be able to change and go where we want. That being said, and I think most people would agree with me that we are living in some pretty somber times. Personally, for me, yeah it has been a somber period, although life in general is a pretty bittersweet thing. If you look at the current political climate, or the social climate – the world as a whole, or humanity as a whole – we aren’t doing very well. I know the new album is a reflection of that.
Dead Rhetoric: With that in mind, not setting out to make the same album twice – are you expecting some pitchforks once the album comes out.
Thomas: I guess it’s a relative concept…If I’m doing my job right, with every album we will probably lose some fans and we will probably gain some fans. The truth of the matter, musically, and as much as I hate to use the word artistically, the truth of the matter is that if you are being honest with yourself and you are growing in an honest way, there is no way that two albums that are 2-3 years apart could be the same. The way that I am as a listener of music changes every year, in terms of my preferences. As a whole, where I am at from a musical standpoint is different and that’s the same for every one of us in the band. That’s why I say, that if I am doing my job right we will gain and lose some [fans]. Hopefully we will gain more. That’s sort of up in the air at any point, but that’s the gamble we are taking by not making the same album over and over. But doing that [making the same album], it would be the worst feeling in the world to me.
Dead Rhetoric: You now have Wes Hauch in the band – did he contribute to the new album or was it more you and Nick [Shaw]?
Thomas: Nick and I wrote the majority of the new album. Rick [Stelzpflug] actually wrote portions of “Sorrowpsalm.” Wes Hauch played a guitar solo in “Again.” When it all went down with Wes, and we were first starting to communicate about him joining the band, it was actually after we had recorded the new album. So we had enough time to slip in one guitar solo – I wish we could have had him all over the album, but it just didn’t work out. The next one though, the next one he’ll be writing on.
Dead Rhetoric: Each of BCI’s releases end with a track using only clean vocals, is this a deliberate pattern or is it just the way it turns out?
Thomas: It’s the way it turns out. With The Wreckage of Stars, “Linear” was intentionally the last track. “Vicious Lies,” the last track on the new album, was intended to be the first song. But when the lyrics started coming together it became apparent that it needed to be last. So that’s just the way it ended up. The way that Nick and I write music is that we let things flow and try not to resist too much. If something resists too much, then we leave it be and don’t force anything. That’s how our track orders tend to come out.
Dead Rhetoric: The lyrics of Selves We Cannot Forgive also seem more personal as well – is that a fair assessment?
Thomas: Big time. They are some of the most personal stuff ever for me on this album. The song “Matriarch” is a good example of that. It’s basically about my family throughout the generations – not just my family, but there’s multiple things involved. It’s all very personal.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw from a recent interview that you started taking vocal lessons over the last year or so. What made you decide to go that route?
Thomas: Live singing, particularly clean singing in a heavy metal band, is without a doubt, the most difficult musical thing I have tried to do. I’m not a natural singer. I started singing because I couldn’t get anyone else to do it that had a sound that I desired. Not that I even do, but it ended up that way. As a young band, without sound guys or money for monitoring and stuff like that, it’s a difficult thing. I figured the best thing that I could do for myself was to figure out a little bit about the instrument that I am trying to play, which in this case is my voice. So I approached it like you would a drum or a guitar. I think I took 8 months of lessons – I would like to take more but with the touring it has been very hard to do, with a guy that graduated from Julliard in NYC. He’s been an opera/broadway singer and he taught me a lot about what I’m doing, but putting it into practice is a totally different thing. I know vocals are something I’ll work the rest of my life on. It’s a hard thing to be happy with.
Dead Rhetoric: Especially when you are playing guitar at the same time!
Thomas: That’s a pain in the ass, man. But I’m working on it!
Dead Rhetoric: At any point, does it seem surreal to see how far you’ve come since Song of the Crippled Bull?
Thomas: We have moments as a band where we are sitting in the van where something cool will happen when we are like “holy shit, we never saw this coming.” Things for me – touring with Behemoth was huge. That was our first tour. I was actually running the other day and thinking to myself – we put out an EP and then we got signed and toured with Behemoth. But we toured with Behemoth before we got signed. You do get a tremendous sense of accomplishment from that. Little things, like seeing Gene Hoglan wearing out t-shirts – that sort of thing is surreal to me. But at the same time, there is so much work that has to be done at the same time, it’s hard to step back and really take stock. But I think when we are old men, if we make it to be old men, we are really going to have something to sit on the porch and shout at the buttwipers about.
Dead Rhetoric: Did the one gig you did with Ne Obliviscaris earlier this year have any impact on you going out to tour with them soon?
Thomas: I think it probably did. We know those guys pretty well and we had talked about touring with them in the past because we have similar fanbases – at least to a large degree. I think that show helped because it was a last minute thing. Cradle of Filth’s visas got screwed up and Ne Obliviscaris was basically stranded here, looking to do some headlining shows. I think we literally had less than 24 hours to do it. We didn’t have a second guitar player, and we just said we’ll do it and get these guys a show. I think may have showed that we were serious about playing with them, but I think they already knew that. They are all good guys.
Dead Rhetoric: In the same regard, how does the band feel about finally getting across the ocean and into Europe for a tour?
Thomas: Going to Europe is a huge goal for any band that starts touring. Since the beginning of us playing live, it was like “man it would be great to go to Europe.” Now we are here – it’s been a goal for a long time. I think the tour in Europe is going to be good for us. It’s got very dissimilar bands than the ones we have toured with so far, but I think it’s a base of fans that hopefully we will appeal to.
Dead Rhetoric: In going across to Europe, is it nice that you are going to go to a new audience, since you have toured so extensively over here?
Thomas: One thing I’m looking forward to about being able to play for European audiences, and the thing that we have noticed recently – Jesse and I were talking about this morning – is that with the new album, it’s getting really good reviews. Well, for the most part – every once in a while that you get a review where someone hates your entire existence and that’s fine too. I’m looking forward to seeing how those fans react, and I think it might be good.
Dead Rhetoric: I’ve heard that there are some distinct differences between playing for a crowd in North American versus Europe.
Thomas: I’m sure – but I have no problem making an ass of myself in front of a large group of people. If that’s what I have to do, I’ll do it.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you have any specific goals with the new album, that you felt as a band, these are things you wanted to accomplish?
Thomas: Yeah, we definitely wanted it to be very bleak, which as we discussed earlier – I think it reflects that, which makes me happy in a sick way. We set out to be more concise with the songwriting. There was some stuff in the past, that we felt could have been more precisely written so we focused on making the arrangements [tighter]. Even with a 9-minute song like “Belie the Machine,” the arrangements are very focused and they don’t feel like long songs. Other than that, we set out just to see what we could come up with and have fun, and we did that as well.
Dead Rhetoric: “Belie the Machine” is the longest song, right?
Thomas: It’s the longest song we’ve ever written, if you don’t count the EP as one song, which I really don’t. I like longer songs, I always have. But I know from a pop standpoint – let’s say I won’t have a Rolls-Royce in the garage anytime soon. I won’t even have a garage anytime soon.
Dead Rhetoric: From my perspective, when I first saw Black Crown Initiate, you were still playing the EP from start to finish. Now you have people that are clamoring for you do it – is it something that you’d like to do again?
Thomas: For sure. We love playing the EP live. It’s fun to do and it’s kind of a cool challenge to play a 22-minute song and not be able to stop. We do know that our fans enjoy that, and we enjoy it too. As the sets become longer hopefully, I’d say that will probably happen.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you planning on doing a number of the new songs as you head out to either the US or the European tour?
Thomas: Oh yeah – at least two, but shooting for three as the tour goes along. Tours later in the year will be focusing mostly on the new album but we’d like to bring some of the EP back. Until we do like 16-hour headline sets, we probably won’t be able to play all of the EP.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve got the two tours coming up, can we expect you’ll be on more before the end of the year?
Thomas: You can expect us to be on tour for the rest of our lives! There’s more tours coming up that haven’t been announced yet so I can say specifically, but you’ll hear some stuff soon.