REVIEWED: Crippled Black Phoenix
It’s often the most gentle words that are the most powerful. Extreme music sure has its share of concrete-crunching moments and demonic gargling, and both have been exhibited in Justin Greaves’ other works drumming for legends in Iron Monkey and Electric Wizard. But surely, and without a doubt, his role as the leader and mainstay of Crippled Black Phoenix should be his over-arching legacy. For 13 years he has collaborated with a shifting array of musicians to produce albums that are pure regal tender for those of us who feel dispossessed, depressed or disillusioned. Which accounts for 99% of the world population at this point in time. The stunning ‘Great Escape’ was released in 2018, and the time since has seen our emotional landscape thrown into ever more starkness and confusion by ever-shifting circumstance, perhaps exemplified by the enforced physical separation of our times. ‘Ellengæst’ may well be the perfect album for these times: it’s like the gentle hand on the shoulder and the kind word over a pint while the rain is pouring outside, the type of friends who you love dearly but don’t see often enough.
With Justin’s pedigree in some of the heaviest bands that ever spewed forth from these isles, and CBP’s previous form with the doom metal stylings of ‘Horrific Honorific’ and ‘(Mankind) The Crafty Ape’, it’s no surprise when ‘House of Fools’ is heralded by pounding textured storm fury, and also not quite a surprise who have followed CBP up to this point that the storm gives way to the effortless gothic melancholy that CBP have quietly made their own. And just like that, you’re drawn hypnotically in a world made beautiful. Vocal lines cascade, harmonise, rise and fall, and rise again with perfect drama in its many anthemic moments, like the post-punk drumming part-tribal part-mechanical of ‘Cry Of Love’ that echo Joy Division and emphasise the gothic grandeur on the reverb-dressed chords from the likes of The Cure. But it’s perhaps ‘Lost’ that is the highlight of this album, unfurling like a victory banner with the mantra: “we are lost as you are” reverberating like a siren call to the perpetually uncertain.
What’s certain about ‘Ellengæst’ is that it glistens like the tear in eye of an angel. ‘In The Night’ is wisdom of the timeless kind delivered in a Leonard Cohen-type gravelling low tones and elfin grace, all capped off with a kick ass Pink Floyd-esque solo, perhaps the band they’re closest to in spirit. Then it’s carried to the finale on the back of a powerful doom metal riff straight from the grimoire of Paradise Lost’s best works. ‘Ellengæst’ is an album that is the very picture of dignity and poise, a paean for those who feel born broken and alone, especially on the soaring choral ‘The Invisible Past’ which glides on scarred wings like an unknowing epic. And there’s a cliffhanger at the end; the sensual ‘She’s In Parties’ which glistens with the magnetism of Depeche Mode by way of Velvet Underground, and a bass motif that promises yet another crescendo but instead fades out and beckons us to follow to see what’s next.
‘Ellengæst’ is out now via Season of Mist