Monday 16 November 2020

Crippled Black Phoenix - Ellengæst (2020)

Country: UK
Style: Post-Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 9 Oct 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Wikipedia | YouTube

Here's something really interesting. Crippled Black Phoenix have been around for a while but I hadn't heard of them until now. They were founded in 2004 and they've released a bunch of albums. I have no real idea how many because there's wild disagreement on that front. Discogs says this is their twelfth studio album, if we discount a collaboration with Se Delan, but Wikipedia only lists seven, calling this an EP, even though it's 54 minutes long. That's pretty damn extended to my way of thinking.

They're a rock band, but their roots are in metal: the band were founded by Justin Greaves, whom I've heard as the drummer for Electric Wizard and Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine; this album was released on Season of Mist, who built their business on extreme metal; and the opening track, House of Fools, features guest vocals from Vincent Cavanagh of Anathema. There's metal everywhere to be found here, except in the actual music.

The band call what they do "endtime ballads" to highlight both melody and the macabre. It's as good a name as any because prog rock, dark folk and psychedelic rock all describe them but don't tell close to the whole story. To my ears, they're a mix of wildly different styles and genres, which aren't always ones you'd expect together. The commonality is that this is dark material and never commercial, even though some of these songs could easily end up on TV shows. "Everything's black" ends (-), which is an interlude of a textured sample, but the line sums up the album.

My favourite song here, for example, which is Lost, is kind of like Dead Can Dance meets Coil or maybe Bauhaus with Kate Bush on vocals. It's driven by tribal drumming and clean, slightly distorted female vocals, with a periodic male shout for emphasis. How can we pigeonhole that? In the Night is like Nick Cave and Pink Floyd colliding in the American desert. Cry of Love is the Sisters of Mercy but with a U2 jangly guitar aesthetic for a while. Everything I Say could be described as Marianne Faithfull singing with Hexvessel, but it's a Vic Chesnutt alt country cover.

Whatever we call the genre, these songs are clearly masterfully constructed. They tend to start softly, with long samples, ice cream trucks or what have you, but find their grooves and build magnificently. They're generally long songs, the first three averaging just over eight minutes and The Invisible Past making it past eleven, but the album wraps with a sub-four minute cover of Bauhaus's She's in Parties. There are always layers here, meaning that we fathom the drive of each song immediately but further listens allow us to dive deeper and catch other things we might have missed first time out. Not all the textures are synths, as you'd expect for post-rock, but many are.

There are four musicians in the band. Greaves plays drums, but often also guitar and bass. Andy Taylor adds more guitars. Helen Stanley handles the keyboards, whether they're piano, organ or synths. The lead vocals mostly come from Belinda Kordic, though there are quite a few guests here too, including Jonathan Hultén of Tribulation, Ryan Patterson of Fotocrime and Gaahl of Gaahls Wyrd, along with a solo singer called Suzie Stapleton. Adding Vincent Cavanagh back in, that covers death/doom, gothic metal, electronic post-punk, black metal and indie rock. That's a heck of a mix.

I adored this album and clearly have plenty of catching up to do with the band's back catalogue. It's a dark shadow of an album, but one that that grooves and dances. It's dark but lush, negative but in the most carefully constructed of ways, non-commercial but shareable with friends from a dozen different genres. My goth and darkwave friends ought to dig this. My prog friends may well like it too and my alt-country friends and my indie friends and experimental weirdness friends. What I wonder if any of my rock and metal friends would. I don't see why not.

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