- Interview by Faye Coulman
THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN: Black Crown Initiate’s James Dorton talks pivotal new record ‘Violent
Satan worship and substance abuse aside, there are few more painfully well-worn clichés that could be applied to the metal genre than that of the token, down-on-their-luck band battling against all odds, sourcing inspiration from tough times or even (wince) suffering for their art. Indeed, it’s a yarn that we at Team Dark Matter are all too well-acquainted with, and one that’s been spun, over and over again, out of all meaningful value and significance, into the stuff of vacuously insincere PR hype and hackneyed cliché. But with a nightmarishly turbulent sound whose every battering hyperblast and blackly introspective refrain audibly vibrates with existential pain and anguish, it’s clear just how richly authentic a craft Delaware’s Black Crown Initiate have forged with meticulously realised new record ‘Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape’.
“I don’t want to live a life where I’m not putting such weight and importance into something that I do that I’m not burning away at myself a little bit,” muses Black Crown Initiate frontman James Dorton on the richly inspiring yet psychologically debilitating creative impulses that have driven and directed the Delaware death metallers’ artistic output from the earliest outset of their inception back in 2012. Indeed, having been blighted by a host of problematic issues spanning everything from a perpetually shifting and unstable line-up to crippling financial struggles and personal tragedy from the get-go, it would seem that misfortune has long been an ever-present fixture for this curiously ill-fated circle of musicians. But, judging by the substantial handful of accomplished long-players they’ve racked up over the relentlessly industrious course of the past decade, it seems these uncommonly turbulent personal circumstances have, nevertheless, serviced them with no shortage of rich creative fuel in the process. After all, this is death fucking metal we’re talking about here.
“There’s a lot of disjointedness that our records tend to be born out of and I think that’s why it ends up playing out precisely the way it does,” James agrees. “We’ve always been kind of rocky, but I think in the end all that drama tends to lead to some pretty good results musically.” So it would seem. Indeed, by 2014, the Americans were already a highly successful touring act sharing stages with the iconic likes of Behemoth, Septicflesh and Crowbar. But, while the next four years of intensely gruelling touring played a no doubt vital role in raising the band’s rapidly flourishing profile as prestigious live performers, by 2016 Dorton and co. were beginning to feel the inevitable stress and strain this unrelenting way of life invariably brings with it.
“We toured pretty hard for something like four years and we were pretty much just totally fried. The idea of reviving a band after all that is sort of… You get like a PTSD reaction to the whole thing, but luckily for us, the music tends to grow organically from a very fertile soil of inspiration which is, historically for us, like really bad periods in our lives. This particular album came out of the context that we weren’t really sure what the future of the band would be, whether it would be anything at all or whether it would just completely suck if we did it. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be sucking all that bad in regards to the fans’ acceptance of the new music and stuff like that. But the context from which this album was born was sort of like, we don’t have a record label, we have lost many of our financial assets and we don’t have any members any more. Well, we were out two members so we had three at the time and that’s when we decided to see if Ethan [McKenna] would be interested in rejoining the band and it just so happened that he was in a good point in his life that he could do so.”
“So we set about writing the record and Andy was dealing with a lot of personal things in his life, and I was having a particularly rough time too. I had just had cancer, I got hit by a car and I was in a car accident. Then my dog died and my uncle died. It was a really crazy time for me too, everything hit me at the same time, so that’s what this record came from. And when we finally hit the studio, it just seemed like the most important thing in the world to me, you know? I was rehearsing every day for months in advance to make sure that I would be able to enter the studio and do the very best thing I could possibly do or have ever done,” the vocalist states emphatically.
Indeed, from violently turbulent passages of densely churning bass groove and intensely visceral tortured screams through to ceaselessly spiralling passages of mind-altering progressive fretwork, the darkly absorbing fruits of these recent, painstaking labours are rich with evidence of these exceptionally testing and traumatic personal experiences. Vividly expressed via a medium whose volatile, darkly meditative vibrations resonate on a bewilderingly immense scale that far surpasses the microcosmic particulars of personal experience, circumstance, language and territory, ‘Violent Portraits…’ is a record born from a place of uncompromisingly raw and exposing emotional turmoil. And while the psychologically draining experience of channelling and reliving their respective recent traumas may have taken a no doubt thoroughly exhausting toll on its creators, James is quick to acknowledge the very potent and particular strain of creative brilliance that only the darkest of personal circumstances is arguably capable of breeding.
“I think that there is great art that exists without pain, but it’s certainly not the same as art that came from real pain. It just can’t be the same thing,” the frontman notes decisively. “I’ve never lived a terribly comfortable life, so while I wouldn’t necessarily tell people that that sort of thing isn’t art, it’s certainly not the type of thing that would personally resonate with me on any level. Making that record was a truly scarring endeavour for Andy and me. It took a lot out of us and I think that’s good in a way because that all reflects in the final product. When you create something like this, you sort of donate part of yourself to it that you leave behind as you walk away. I think that part of it is absolutely essential in order to make something that is moving, that is sincere and that will affect people when they hear it.”
Having finally laid to rest this unthinkably dark and harrowing chapter of unrelenting personal upheaval, the summer of 2020 finds BCI in infinitely more optimistic and hopeful spirits. And rightly so, as the Delaware death metal crew ready themselves for the now-imminent release of what is assuredly the finest and most violently cathartic album they’ve ever created.
“It’s a little intense to put out a record and not be able to tour on it because first week sales for a record are really important, and if you’re not out on the road promoting it, that’s usually a mistake,” James observes. “That said, we’ve seen certain bands have done fairly well so far, and of course people are being extra supportive of the music industry where they can right now, which is great. So we’re gonna put it out and it’ll do as good as it can and hopefully we can tour on it sooner rather than later. But it’s hard, because I think live shows will be the last thing to come back online in the current climate. Even after this era is over, it’s going to take some time for businesses to re-emerge and I think many venues will go out of business if they haven’t already, so I definitely think this industry will be changed from all this in some unforeseen way. That whole business model relies on tons of people being smashed together in a room, and without that the industry is just going to die. I keep seeing talk of the music industry needing adjust to the digital age and adapt like it did in the downloading age in the year 2000, but with live shows. And I’m like, man, if anything is to usher in The Matrix itself, it’s going to be the act of making gigs a digital experience, like through Oculus. Obviously, that’s all speculation at this point but I really hope that bands will be out on the road again before too long.”
'Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape' is out now via Century Media