Black Crown Initiate: The Toilet ov Hell Interview
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so (probably working on your super raw atmospheric post-blackened crust album, nerd), you’ve been hearing plenty of buzz about Black Crown Initiate. They quietly slipped out the Song of the Crippled Bull EP in July of 2013, but it quickly caught on and spread like wildfire.
Their brand of massively heavy death metal blended with progressive expansion and sincere musicianship seeks to cover as much ground as possible, ignoring tired tropes and repetitive drivel. After only a handful of shows in their area, Black Crown Initiate were suddenly finding themselves on huge national tours, beefing up their resumé with the likes of Behemoth, Goatwhore, Septic Flesh, Fleshgod Apocalypse, The Faceless, and Fallujah. Earlier this year, they finally announced their full-length follow up to Song of the Crippled Bull. The Wreckage of Stars is due out on EOne Heavy on September 30th, and you can pick up preorders here.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with guitarist/vocalist Andy Thomas, vocalist James Dorton, and bassist Nick Shaw, and we talked the band, the album, and beards. Jam the new songs, “Great Mistake” and “Withering Waves,” while you read!
First of all, give us some background on the band. It started as a sort of one-off studio project, is that correct? How did it explode into the mighty BCI we see today?
Andy Thomas: Yes, Nick and I (Andy) started this band with no clue what would happen. I really just wanted to make music that I could stand behind with my whole heart. We asked James to sing on the EP, and he agreed. We put it out, still with no expectations, and out of nowhere a buzz started. Rik joined, as he and I have played guitar together in a few bands and I always wanted him to be my co-guitarist in this one. We went through another drummer, although Jesse was the dude we wanted when we started the band. We played a few shows, seven or eight, and were asked to be a part of the Metal Alliance Tour. The rest is, as they say, history.
What has it been like going from an idea in a studio to a huge international stage in such a short amount of time?
Nick Shaw: It has been quite an experience to say the least. Andy and I never expected this when we made Song of the Crippled Bull. There was and still is A LOT for us to learn. We are so lucky to have toured with bands like Behemoth, Fleshgod Apocalypse, The Faceless, etc. Not only are all these bands made of genuinely good people, they were willing to give advice, and to just have the opportunity to sit back and see how these bands do it was very helpful. It can all be quite stressful at times like any other job, but I can say for sure that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in my life. Being a musician is certainly something that I’ve wanted to do my entire life.
AT: It hasn’t sunk in yet, for me anyway.
You absolutely were! The lyrics seem to follow that arc, and they paint a pretty bleak picture along the way. What are the overall themes and ideas communicated there? And, if I may be so bold, who are the father and sisters?
AT: The lyrics are really reflections of my bleak worldview and my life experience. I use a great deal of symbolism, which I suppose is an attempt to obscure what I actually mean. On the upcoming full-length, I made a conscious effort to obscure the lyrics less. That said, there are Buddhist and Hindu references, as well as nods to Nietzsche. The father and the sisters are interesting. There are two angles: one is too personal for me to talk about. The other is from a news article I read about a Russian family that escaped into the woods during WWII to escape Stalin. They survived for decades and died off very quickly after “scientists” discovered them, with the exception of one I believe. Anyway, the father is the patriarch of that family, and the sisters are his daughters. Upon being discovered, the sisters shouted “this is for our sins!”
That is incredibly intense. You guys have wrapped up some serious tours this year, with the Metal Alliance Tour earlier and a Septic Flesh tour more recently. How were those runs?
AT: Those tours were really life-changing. We began to learn how to really perform for people, and not just stand on stage, although stage presence is something that always needs work. Watching a band like Behemoth perform nightly was wildly inspirational, to say the least.
Any good tour shenanigan stories?
AT: I really drank a shit ton of whiskey with Behemoth and Goatwhore, and one night Seth, the guitarist of Behemoth, had to carry me back to our van. I was, as they say in outer space, WASTED…OUTER SPACETED, even.
Excellent phrase, I’ll remember that one. What do you guys like to do for fun while touring?
AT: I like to drink, read books, listen to music, play guitar. Any time we have the luxury of stopping and seeing a cool landmark or something, that is a plus. We stopped at the waterfalls from Twin Peaks and in the town where it was filmed, and I fanboyed out for a while. Good times…
We were all really sad to hear about the van incident on the Canadian Club Summer Slaughter run. That was a serious lineup, and I believe you guys had to get cozy with The Faceless after they hit that moose. Transportation issues aside, how was that tour?
James Dorton: I think getting to know the artists that we’ve come to respect over the years made the tour worthwhile, despite the trouble we encountered. We met many awesome new fans as well.
We’ve seen online that you’ve unfortunately had to miss a couple appearances due to your…less than perfect van. Tell us a little about this magical chariot of the gods.
AT: Our van is a 1991 GMC Rally. She purrs like a kitten and breaks a great deal. We have run into a significant amount of trouble with her, but she is all we can afford at this juncture. We are hoping that changes soon.
Do you guys have outside jobs back home that are able to work with the sudden rise in touring?
AT: Sadly, I lost my job to tour, although I will be teaching guitar again soon. Some of us managed to hold on to our jobs, however, and that has been a blessing.
James, there’s a bit of a Travis Ryan feel on that high vocal line at the end of The Mountain Top. You’ve got a stellar display of range throughout the EP, what has influenced you over the years in terms of your style?
JD: Thank you for you kind words. Many vocalists have influenced what I do over the years; my favorites being those that make themselves sound more than human, and deliver with energy, power, dynamics and ferocity. Some of the vocalists that influenced me are Grutle from Enslaved, Helmuth of Belphegor, Peter Tagtren, Dani Filth (yep), Mikael Akerfeldt, Jens Kidman, and many others. What I learned from them was not to achieve a specific sound but to go for that level of intensity in my delivery and beyond.
As a vocalist myself, I’m always curious to ask others: where and when do you practice screaming your head off like a lunatic?
JD: My best place to practice alone would be in the car while driving.
AT: I don’t. I have a cherubic tenor that is only used for melodic woman vocals.
You have my favorite melodic woman vocals of all time, Andy. James, I’ve heard a few people comment on your awesome snarl face while you’re onstage. What sort of fell beasts and demons are you channeling while in performance mode?
JD: Godzilla. I strive to become the archetype.
Andy, for all of our gear heads out there, can you give us a quick summary of your setup?
AT: I use an Ibanez RG2228 and a Fractal Axe FX Ultra live. In the studio, I used PRS CE24 for leads, a Martin D15, a Bogner Überschall and an EVH 5150iii 50 watt, as well as a Maxon OD 808, MXR Carbon Copy Delay, and MXR Stereo Chorus.
How about you, Nick?
NS: My bass rig is actually really simple. Andy, Rik, and I all go direct through the PA. It just makes things easier on the road. I play a Warwick Standard Corvette and I plug that into an MXR Bass Compressor and then into a Sansamp Bass Driver DI. That’s pretty much it! I definitely would like to experiment with different pre amp pedals in the future. There’s some really cool stuff out there.
We’re not too far out from the release of the new album. Tell us a little about The Wreckage of Stars. Where and with whom did you record? What kind of stylistic evolution can we expect? Who did the artwork?
We recorded with Carson Slovak and Grant “El Rampo” Mcfarland at Atrium Audio again. We love those guys and they did an amazing job. We started this band with the hopes that we could always expand in any and all directions; that we could explore our music on a whim. Our album is more of everything from the EP, and then some. It is heavier, gentler, faster, slower, louder, softer and everything in between. We hope to stay this course for the duration of this band. Alex Hoffman from Fallujah did the artwork, and it perfectly illustrates the bleak nature of the album, we feel.
Nick, what does your part in the writing process look like? Between the layers and intricacies of BCI’s songs, your bass lines have a lot to compete with. However, you seem to really nail the balance between support and taking room to have some fun. Can you describe thought process when it comes to plugging in your bass lines?
NS: For Wreckage of Stars, Andy, Rik, and I would always get together and collaborate ideas. Usually, Andy and Rik bring the riffs and I mainly piece them together. In some cases if we hit a wall and get stuck I’ll come up with some riffs here and there when needed. I also had the pleasure of composing the self titled track on our new album titled The Wreckage of Stars (Andy still did lyrics of course). It’s a very cool feeling to have a song on the album that I mainly had full creative control over!
Being musical is our priority when we write the songs. I approach writing the bass lines in a similar way. I try to focus on playing for the song rather than be too overwhelming and technical. There are definitely some flashy/over the top parts within the songs sometimes (usually during an instrumental climax of some sort), but even then my focus is to think of ideas that benefit the songs the most.
When do you think we’ll get a headlining tour in support of the album?
AT: Tough to say. At this point, we are honored to be touring anywhere and in any way we can. That said, we hope to be able to headline a successful tour soon!
What influences Black Crown Initiate? Other bands, books, movies, the grim Northern sky?
AT: Of course other bands. Beyond the obvious, there are too many to list. We all listen to different things and most of it isn’t metal at all. I read a good deal of Nietzsche, as well as Slavoj Zizek lately. From the world of film, I adore Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, and David Lynch. I also love cats, dogs, and Sierra Nevada beer.
What non-metal music is essential to your library?
AT: For me, the list is long. To name a few, Steven Wilson, Philip Glass, Nine Inch Nails, Iron and Wine, Nick Drake, King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Sigur Ros, Mum, early U2, Ours, Allan Holdsworth, Mars Volta, and assorted world music.
Is there an unspoken beard war in the band? And more importantly, how do Jesse and Nick cope with their bare faces? This may be a sensitive topic, take your time.
AT: It isn’t sensitive at all. I win. The rest are trying to catch up.
NS: Ha! The last thing we actually talk about in the band are beards. It’s hardest for us in the public eye, there’s so much ridicule for us having baby faces. It’ll be ok though. I still gotta keep the lady happy!
And finally, it’s been a little over a year since Song of the Crippled Bull was released, and that year has seen an explosion of Black Crown Initiate. Do you have any predictions for a year from now?
AT: To try to predict anything would be foolish. I hope we have continued to tour, learn, and grow. I also hope we are afforded the opportunity to spread our music to even more people than we already have; particularly through more international touring.
There you have it, flushers. Keep your eyes on their Facebook page if you’re interested in lessons from Andy, as I’m sure he’ll post any online availability. Nick is currently offering online bass lessons as well, and you can contact him at Nick.firstname.lastname@example.org! Trust me, you want lessons from both of these guys. Getcher preorders here, and see if their upcoming tour with Rivers of Nihil is coming anywhere near you!