Release Date: 9 Sep 2022
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Crippled Black Phoenix blew me away a couple of years ago with their Ellengæst album, an album of the month for me. This one doesn't do the same job but it's still an excellent release, a notably generous one that I presume is technically a double album, given that it's over an hour and a half long. It never feels too long, even on a second listen and even though many of these songs are slow indeed. Some are also very long, four of them making it past the ten minute mark and two of them by a long way. The Scene is a False Prophet wraps up the album with over fifteen minutes to call its very own.
As last time out, the genre is hard to define because Crippled Black Phoenix have no intention of being confined to just one and move effortlessly between quite a few. Post-rock seems to be safe, because much of what's here obviously owes a debt to the fertile post-punk era in the UK with its spawning ground of new genres that made the indie charts so fascinating in the early eighties. It isn't all post-punk though, because there are nods to punk itself and goth and what experimental bands remained relatively accessible, so maybe more Coil than Nurse with Wound.
My favourite tracks are highly varied. Ghostland is definitely the first of them, both in the order it shows up and in ranking. I adore this one, which has a vague industrial feel because the guitar is a relentlessly grinding machine. Beneath it, though, is a dark chant, with the vocals further down in the mix than the more traditional song before it. Wyches and Basterdz may eventually get under our skin, with its haunting lead vocal from Belinda Kordic, but Ghostland does that from the start hooking us immediately and irrevocably.
After that is probably Everything is Beautiful But Us, with a relatively straightforward post-punk groove but with Kordic an enticingly subtle siren floating around it. It may be the most accessible song here, but I know it's impactful because it keeps overwhelming The Pilgrim after it, which isn't a bad song at all. I'd probably go for that epic closer next, which deliberately references The Sound of Silence lyrically and, perhaps more accidentally, Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On in its choice of phrasing. It's a simple but highly effective brooder, eventually flowing like a darker Pink Floyd, quite a journey from its opening that's reminiscent of Nick Cave's piano work.
While those were the standouts from my first time through, with a firm understanding that they only deepen with further listens, I should add The Reckoning to their company, because it's easily the album's grower for me and it was strong already. It has an alternative rumble to it and a vibe that's very English, heartfelt and working class, but also dark and elegant, like the Clash shifting into goth. Its build is magnificent, as is the norm for this band, and it benefits from a powerful hook. Nothing else lets the side down, even over an hour and a half, but the album certainly travels long musical distances and not all of them with equal success.
I was surprised to find that my standouts were as often shorter songs as epics. What surprised me most was the first of those epics because Rose of Jericho is atypical for this band. It's not that it's built out of a patient beat and laid back guitar. It's that it sounds acutely uplifting, even more so when Helen Stanley's trumpet kicks in. It isn't at all what I expected from Crippled Black Phoenix, who walk on the dark side for a living. It takes a while to shed that positive attitude, especially in sections with backing vocals that sound like a stadium of football fans cheering on their team, but it eventually gets there, maybe six minutes in.
I should listen to this more. Ellengæst floored me immediately and only got better. I dug this a lot and it's growing on me too, but not from as a high a level. Maybe that's partly because they're no longer new to me but I don't buy into that because, while there's some consistency to their sound, they don't ever rest on their laurels, always wanting to go somewhere new musically. While I feel pretty safe in awarding this one a lower rating than its predecessor, it's still recommended and I have a feeling it's going to get more so as I befriend it.
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