REVIEW: Crippled Black Phoenix – Banefyre

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I think it’s about time to take a deep breath and collectively brace ourselves for the realization that we are entering the final third of 2022; with all things considered, practically anything from an alien invasion to being suckered into some totalitarian NWO dystopia seems very much within the realm of possibilities. The Italian philosopher and vocal critic of Benito Mussolini and fascism, Antonio Gramsci, once said about his times, “The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters,” and his words resonate with an ominous ring to this day. Now, especially, as the post-pandemic world seems poised on the brink of war on all fronts, it isn’t perhaps the best of times to appear different to the old world full of conformists. As luck would have it, however, some artists and bands have chosen the left-hand path of serving as the voice for the voiceless, whether it be animals, the unequal, or the different. CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX is one of those groups and their latest studio outing, “Banefyre,” due out on September 9th, 2022, via Season of Mist, has an overarching theme of the persecution of people who are deemed different by society – the outcasts, the black sheep of the family, the eight balls, the left-of-centers, the underdogs.

The album begins with the aptly titled intro, “Incantation For the Different,” written and orated by Chicago-based occultist Shane Bugbee, whose poignant street sermon sure charges the minimalist, twangy guitar-driven track with dark-yet-positive energy. He makes quite a few sharp observations, like the one about how Steve Jobs told us to “think different,” yet failed to warn us that thinking, being, living, or loving differently could get us killed if we weren’t born rich with a silver-spoon stuck up our ass. He’s not wrong, you know. Fifty Shades of Grey is romantic merely because the protagonist is a billionaire – otherwise, the story would be just another Criminal Minds episode. The inspired mixture of edgy slam poetry and twangy, Southern-Gothic-vibed guitar-minimalism sure does set a haunting tone for the album.

Wyches and Basterdz” zooms in on the collective paranoia and religious sadism of the Salem Witch Trials that took place in colonial Massachusetts in the early 1690s. The musical setting is a darkly shaded mix of NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS and the late PORTISHEAD. The previous CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX studio album, “Ellengæst” (2020), was hailed as the band’s most emotionally devastating effort so far; however, merely two tracks into this new outing, it is starting to look an awful lot like this release could steal that moniker. When Belinda Kordic sings, “They are coming to purge her soul,” it sure sends shivers up and down your spine.

Third up, “Ghostland” steps slightly outside the band’s comfort zone, with the song’s chant-laden stomp resonating perhaps more with the air of Nordic-noir bands such as HEILUNG rather than alternative rockers infused with Gothic overtones. The mantra-like lyrics are sung in Swedish, which is not exactly my forte, but I could make out that the song is about wandering aimlessly in eternity, or something to that effect – pure Nordic-noir stuff, I reckon. Sandwiched between two straight-up Southern Gothic numbers, “Wyches and Basterdz” and “The Reckoning,” the song does not sound out of place at all. Obviously, it helps that each song is imbued with an almost genre-defying depth of emotion.

The album comes stocked with no less than four 10+ minute cuts. First, “Rose of Jericho” rolls out as a haunting 13-minute post-rock epic. Then, “Down the Rabbit Hole” delves even deeper into the post-rock realm. If my memory serves me right, I think I originally found the band through the post-rock-oriented website, Silent Ballet, a million years ago. Mixing highly evocative post-rockish guitar legatos with the somewhat Southern Gothic alternative rock aesthetic that has become the band’s trademark over the years does indeed work wonders. Similar, roaring post-rock soundscapes are a visceral part of the other two epics, as well. “I’m OK, Just Not Alright” balances between languid serenity and full-on post-rock mayhem, and the 15-minute sonic journey of “The Scene Is A False Prophet” follows the cinematic, “From a whisper to a scream over the course of 10+ minutes” post-rock paradigm rather faithfully.

The album title is a play on the song, “Bonefire” that Kordic named and wrote lyrics for. In classic CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX fashion, Greaves turned it into the Olde English translation in order to conjure up the mental image of the bonfires that engulfed witches and politicians through the 15th and 18th centuries – hence the name, “Banefyre.” The song resonates with the air of 1990s alternative rock pretty nicely, channeling the spirit of such iconic outfits as MAZZY STAR, SONIC YOUTH, and maybe even early THE SMASHING PUMPKINS.

Yes, the lyrical themes on the album seem layered with a decidedly negative and pessimistic air, what with the overarching theme being about the persecuting mentality that ever so often derives from our irrational fears; however, there remains a faint glimmer of hope and joy. The witch hunts are, more or less, a thing of the past now, and when it comes to being different, CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX seems to strongly agree with the famous notion attributed to Nikola Tesla that “Anti-social behavior is a trait of intelligence in a world full of conformists.” For one thing, they have come up with yet another hauntingly beautiful selection of new songs by traversing further and further down the less beaten path.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Intro/Incantation For the Different
  2. Wyches and Basterdz
  3. Ghostland
  4. The Reckoning
  5. Bonefire
  6. Rose of Jericho
  7. Blackout77
  8. Down the Rabbit Hole
  9. Everything Is Beautiful But Us
  10. The Pilgrim
  11. I’m OK, Just Not Alright
  12. The Scene Is A False Prophet
  13. No Regrets

Lineup

Justin Greaves – guitars, bass, samples, saw

Belinda Kordic – vocals, percussion

Helen Stanley – grand piano, synthesizers, Monochord, trumpet

Andy Taylor – guitars, baritone guitar, 12-string guitar

Joel Segestedt – vocals, guitars

Label

Season of Mist

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