BLACK CROWN INITIATE – Questioning Man’s Metal
July 22, 2016, a year ago
Black Crown Initiate pens songs that are intelligent, both lyrically and musically, although guitarist/vocalist Andy Thomas doesn’t like the term “Thinking Man’s Metal.” Thomas feels like that term conjures visions of doctors in their offices conducting research. He prefers the term “Questioning Man’s Metal.” He delves deep into a topic and not just takes it for face value.
Black Crown Initiate’s newest recording Selves We Can Not Forgive certainly presents lyrics that will make their listeners think, at least the ones that take the time to explore the lyrics. It covers topics as heady as the nature of existence. As much as some people like to feel they understand the nature of our existence, where we came from, where we are headed (especially after this life), it’s still a topic that is loose like sand in our fingers. It is certainly something to question.
Musically, their second full-length recording is just as smart as the lyrics. Like any band branded with the tag “progressive, “Black Crown Initiate keeps their music dynamic, flowing and varied. Clean and harsh vocals, melody and ferocity create contrasts that ensure the heavy parts are heavier while the lighter parts are richer. 8-string guitars help realize cinder-block textured rhythms that result in comparisons to modern progressive legends like Mastodon, Tool, OPETH and especially Meshuggah.
Reader’s uninitiated to the complex-yet-unpretentious music of Black Crown Initiate read on and learn more from one of the band’s creative forces, Andy Thomas.
Bravewords.com: Selves We Can Not Forgive is complete. How do you feel about the album?
Andy Thomas: “We’re very proud of it. We really took our time with it and had the luxury, more-so to do that this time. I think, as a whole, it’s a more focused album. A lot of people are saying it’s a darker album, which I think is kind of cool because we intended to do that.
Bravewords.com: Do you see this as a continuation or a progression of The Wreckage Of Stars?
Andy Thomas: “I don’t see anything we’ve done too much of a continuation because of the way life kind of is. If you do it two years apart, at least personally for me, everything in your life is different. We all try to come from as fresh a place as possible at that point. We have our influences and know who they are, but we try to start fresh with everyone.”
Bravewords.com: Did you have any new influences come out on this album?
Andy Thomas: “I would say the biggest one is personal life, always has been. I’m getting a little older. I’ll be 30 this year. I’m starting to look forward. I’m not preparing for the end of my life or anything. You look back on your youth. For example, even at 30 your body doesn’t take care of itself like it used to. Just evaluating stuff like that. Musically, cliché as it is, I don’t think too many of us listen to much heavy metal anymore, although we love the sonic esthetic of it—huge guitars and fast drums. I’m more apt to listen to Seeger Ross or Iron And Wine. I like Cult Of Luna a lot, too.”
Bravewords.com: What were the recording sessions like?
Andy Thomas: “They were pretty similar to the ones we recorded before. We recorded at Atrium Audio Recording Studio with Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We really like working with those guys. They’re friends and fans and we have a nice working relationship. Making an album, at least writing and recording an album, is inherently stressful, so if you can get a team of people who can alleviate that in any small way it’s a pretty special thing. This time the one thing we did do differently is we recorded the guitar and bass at our bass player’s house, which afforded us the time to really experiment with things and see what we liked. By doing that, it allowed us more time in the studio to experiment with the way things sounded, and not so much the performances because we had already taken care of that part.”
Bravewords.com: You mentioned the guitars. They sound down tuned. Are you using a 7-string on this album?
Andy Thomas: “We’ve always used 8-string guitars. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a fan of the sound of low-tuned guitars. I’ve always liked it. As I said, I’ve always enjoyed the sonic esthetic, really heavy…what I see as really heavy music because that’s a relative concept. My favorite heavy metal band of all-time is Meshuggah. It’s definitely a huge part of my DNA. That’s a common interest for everyone in the band. We all love Meshuggah. I’m sure that’s definitely noticeable. That’s kind of where I started. When they came out with an 8-string on, I think it was ‘Nothing’, I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get one of those!’ As soon as they put out Crush 8-strings, I bought one. It’s just the heavy aspect about it. You can do a lot with the guitar, chord and scale wise. It’s just a lot more range to work with. I appreciate that, and I appreciate the dynamic of having that low string but you also have high strings. It’s important to utilize all of it.”
Bravewords.com: Black Crown Initiate has a good mix of melody and death metal brutality. How does that all come together for you?
Andy Thomas: “When Nick [Shaw] and I get together to write music, we approach it from the perspective as such: experimentation and having fun, so we really get excited by contrasting things like that and putting them together in a, hopefully, logic way or flowing way. That’s our favorite thing about writing music. I think that’s where those songs come from.”
Bravewords.com: “Belie The Machine” is your longest song to date? Was this difficult to pen? How did you know when it was done?
Andy Thomas: “That’s a difficult song to write because mostly there’s a few transitions in that song where there are some unrelated key stuff going on. We really had to be creative to make it flow in a way that we liked. I remember when we finished writing the song, we basically wrote it note-for-note as we always do, and we sent it to our band mates and our drummer Jessie [Beahler], he thought it was too long. ‘Who’s going to listen to this? It’s too long.’ We exist as a band because, basically, the 22 minute long song on the EP. It flows. Playing it now he loves it.”
Bravewords.com: The album’s lyrics look at the mind, spirit and nature of reality. Existentialism. Would you say Black Crown Initiate is Thinking Man’s metal, both lyrically and musically?
Andy Thomas: “I don’t really dig that label too much because Thinking Man’s metal means you have to have a P.H.D. to listen to it something. I think as people, and I can only speak for myself here regarding the lyrics, I’ve always been the type of person, and even my parents say this, to question everything. I don’t take something at face value. I don’t believe something just because another human being tells me that’s the truth. I think, maybe, Questioning Man’s Metal would be apt.”
Bravewords.com: Is there a connected theme that runs throughout the album’s lyrics?
Andy Thomas: “Not really and I think even less so for this album than on the previous two. This time around, my perspective has maybe shifted. My overall mentality is changing and I’m realizing as you get older you have a lot of neurosis and problems or even behavioral issues that I’m not even sure where they come from because I picked them up before I was even old enough to know what they look like. I think a lot of the album is dealing with that, although some of the album has stuff that is very, very personal, probably to a point that I won’t even discuss it. I think, in certain songs, this probably does translate. I wrote the song ‘For Red Cloud’ based on the writings of the Native American named John Trudell. We wrote a lot of the self-enslavement in white people as opposed to understanding their selves while they enslaved everyone else. It’s like a mental entrapment. It’s dedicated to native people, in general, and specifically a guy named Red Cloud. I think the more native cultures we destroy around the world, the more we lose the truth or knowledge we destroy about where we come from.”
Bravewords.com: Three of your members, Nick Shaw and Jesse Beahler and you also play in Nightfire. These bands are both prog/death bands. How do they compare? What’s going on with Nightfire?
Andy Thomas: “I played with them for a short time. Our singer and our drummer did for all the time, but that band is now defunct. I don’t think they officially split up. They were a band much longer than when I was in the band. I don’t think they actually split up on paper, but I know for a fact they haven’t done anything since this band has started because the majority members of the band are ex-members of this band.”
Bravewords.com: I see there are some similarities in music and lyrical themes. What do you see are the differences between these two bands?
Andy Thomas: “I think the biggest difference is that band had none of my musical DNA in it and our bass player. We weren’t really writers in that band. We just played. There was another writer in there. We weren’t compatible as writers, so we broke off and started this band. There really isn’t too much similarity. They were more of a tech death band.”
Bravewords.com: You’re more progressive.
Andy Thomas: “Yeah, you could say that.”
Bravewords.com: If you don’t like that term, then varied.
Andy Thomas: “I don’t mind that term at all.”
Bravewords.com: I think about progression and it doesn’t just mean “change,” I think about the keyboards and some of the sounds.
Andy Thomas: “Yeah, for sure. I’m ok with that because by the very definition of the word you’re progressing and you’re progressive. We hoped to always be doing that.”
Bravewords.com: You’re very progressive in your vocal styles. You do the clean vocals and James does the death metal vocals. How did that develop?
Andy Thomas: “It kind of very naturally did. We’ve been doing that from the get-go, really. It was kind of a manner of me knowing I wanted someone to do clean vocals and not really having anybody with the sonic esthetic that we needed, so I really started doing it myself, even though I really had no clue what I was doing (laughs). Later on, I got some help, took some vocal lessons. I am definitely still working on them. That is something very difficult to do, particularly live when you’re playing guitar. That’s still a work in progress, I feel. This whole thing is a work in progress.”
Bravewords.com: That shows that you’re continuing to grow.
Andy Thomas: “Yeah man, we all definitely hope to.”
Bravewords.com: In September you hit the road with Born Of Osiris, Veil Of Maya and Volume to tour Europe. How do you feel about this tour? Do you enjoy touring Europe?
Andy Thomas: “Hell yeah! We’ve never toured Europe before. I think our singer and drummer did a self-financed tour when they were in Nightfire, but Nick and I have never been to Europe. This is our first time, but we are really looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to seeing all the sites and the old history, but I’m also looking forward to playing our music for potential fans we haven’t met before. I think, all-and-all, it’s going to be a really fulfilling experience. Another thing, if nothing else happens to this band we can say our music took us to Europe. That’s a really cool thought, too, you know.”