First, there is the lamenting trumpet, reminiscent of certain unforgettable soundtrack moments composed by Ennio Morricone, almost as if you’d just entered the spaghetti western realms of Sergio Leone. Soon, the gritty guitars further pronounce the somewhat apocalyptic western feel, in such a way it brings flashbacks of the magnificent album, ”Diary of a Dead Man Walking,” by Finnish post-metal outfit BETRAYAL AT BESPIN. I’m listening to the opening track, ”House of Fools,” on the new CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX album, ”Ellengæst,” due out 9 October 2020 via Season of Mist. When the first breathy, derelict trumpet notes hit my ears, I’m all agog to immerse myself in the ocean of distortion and melancholy. The band’s previous 2018 album, ”Great Escape,” was profoundly moving and the new outing soon stirs up similar feelings, of something buried in the past, long aeons ago. The album is like a montage composed of the snapshots of our darkest secrets, hopes, and dreams with sharply delineated areas of light and dark. At its lightest, it feels strangely uplifting despite the grim overtones. At its darkest, it makes you feel like a lonely, old haggard amid the ruins of her memories. In thought-provoking and shape-shifting ways, ”Ellengæst” captures how the shadows fall across our lives, in intriguing detail, with the depth and texture of fine, unadulterated wine. The band’s stubborn refusal to bow to musical norms may confuse the casual listener, though. CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX is one of those bands that smile like a predator, baring its cadaverous teeth in a ruthless, yet charming fashion, thriving on the unconventional, singular, and undefinable. They are brazen enough to allow the darkness to take whatever shapes it chooses, shamelessly, almost impudently.
The video single track, ”Lost,” begins with a music box intro that’s charged with a growing sense of things getting out of kilter. Blending twangy guitars with the aesthetics of vintage Gothic rock, the song plunges into dark romanticism, if not nihilism, by claiming that ”we are lost as humans.” On these first two album tracks, ANATHEMA‘s Vincent Cavanagh pairs with vocalist Belinda Kordic, the two switching lead vocal responsibilities for each song. The lyrics speak with the gravitas of a person who’s already lived a dozen lifetimes, cutting through the wall of distortion like a holy sword. These two haunting tracks are quite a way to open an album and yet, the album keeps up the momentum with a sledgehammer selection of new strangely transfixing songs that might as well leave the unsuspecting listener sobbing in the fetal position in the shower when the music’s over. I wouldn’t be surprised.
On the day tracking these new songs started, the band suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves without a male lead vocalist and keyboardist. Songwriter and guitarist Justin Greaves took it as an opportunity to tap into his deep network of musician friends, who were already on the same page from an artistic standpoint. Thus, the new album features a prominent cavalcade of guests. ”In the Night” features Kristian ”Gaahl” Espedal of Norwegian black metal outfit GAAHL’S WYRD. His grave delivery resonates with the aura of the vocalist, Eber, on ”America” by the Slovenian avant-garde industrial band, LAIBACH. The choice of a spoken-word approach hits the nail on the head, considering the song is about us being but battered, broken souls learning to let go of our bruised past, determined to live to fight another day even though tomorrow might never come. It makes the song sound like an internal monologue of the last person on earth, watching as the world dies.
Ryan Patterson of COLISEUM/FOTOCRIME and UK solo artist Suzie Stapleton contribute vocals on the momentous ”Cry of Love,” which channels a somewhat 1980s-esque, almost Springsteenian rock romanticism through the prism of new-wave gloom, and Jonas Hultén of TRIBULATION features a soaring vocal performance on the trance-inducing tower of song, ”The Invisible Past,” and there’s something oddly haunting and captivating in the way the ocean of distortion undulates forward in a triplet rhythm. To round out the set with something borrowed, ”She’s In Parties” is a lit version of BAUHAUS‘ vintage Gothic pop anthem. Almost unexpectedly, it fits perfectly in the album’s widescreen melancholy and post-rockish emotional crescendos.
The album title is an Olde English word, which translates as ”strong spirit” or ”a mischievous demon.” It echoes the duality of the human condition and the internal struggles we face on an ongoing basis. CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX has a way of getting under your skin, like the true acolytes of some strange voodoo cult. I mean, quite literally, the album has the potential to give you the pins and needles while listening. Being consumed by the inward spiral of our own dark desires can truly feel like swallowing a mouthful of fire – and here’s an album that mimics such feelings magnificently. As uninvited as the feelings might emerge, we’d better just tag along for the ride. Traversing the same stoic and melancholic terrains of such fine albums as ”The Lyre of Orpheus” by NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS, the new album, ”Ellengæst,” by CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX holds the keys to the mysteries of the human heart, giving a glimpse of what lies hidden beneath the surface of our skin. Like a blood servant of the underworld, it drags us down to hell. Standing at the gates of Inferno, like a traitor in love, the unstoppable torrents of grief and remorse come washing over – and if feels fantastic.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- House of Fools
- In the Night
- Cry of Love
- Everything I Say
- The Invisible Past
- She’s In Parties
Justin Greaves – guitars, drums, bass, samples, saw
Belinda Kordic – vocals, percussion
Helen Stanley – grand piano, synthesizers, trumpet
Andy Taylor – guitar
Season of Mist