Review Summary: So un-modern it’s a joy.
Crippled Black Phoenix are backwards, and almost some 40 years at that. Despite often being lumped into the post rock genre their music largely revolves around the cornerstones of classic rock: Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Who, a Tom Waits homage here, a Journey cover there and Pink Floyd everywhere. They are so decidedly un-modern it’s a joy. On (Mankind) The Crafty Ape
they once again reinvent nothing, starting with themselves. Yet a tad heavier around the edges, the songs overall shorter than last time around, but all in all you get nothing you wouldn’t come to expect.
Not so much a band rather than a collective, Crippled Black Phoenix change line-ups constantly and include band members of a wide array of different groups (the terms supergroup sometimes gets thrown around as well). The centerpieces are drummer and band-founder Justin Greaves from the metal-stoners Electric Wizard and folk musician Joe Volk as vocalist and lyricist, who sadly left the group after the recording of this album. Also very much noteworthy is Karl Demata, who’s a god-damn beast on the guitar.
Like any self-respecting prog album (Mankind) The Crafty Ape
is both a double album and
a concept album. In three chapters. About something. The fact that one song has the impeccable title “Release the Clowns” almost makes me want to decipher whatever story they are apparently telling, but I fear that it doesn’t involve an actual horde of clowns being let loose on a blood-frenzied rampage.
But aside with the superficialities. After a short intro “The Heart of Every Country” leads us through a rich ambient section and then adds some relaxing acoustic guitar before the whole band comes in with a groove right out of a forgotten Pink Floyd recording. From there on it all falls into place perfectly: the bluesy guitar lines, the tastefully placed keyboards and synthesizers, the sparse but effective sound gimmicks, the eternally grooving rhythm section. These guys know exactly what they are doing and how to do it for maximum effect. The production holds it together in a way that leaves place for both soft dreamlike passages and heavier rock explosions, capable of both rough and delicate moments. Only Joe Volk’s vocals sometimes seem a tad pale against the huge sound of the band, but his melodies are all the sweeter for it. Those in the absolutely stunning “The Brain / Poznan” for example. And after the album has gone through over an hour of (mostly) exciting alternations between soft and heavy, quiet and loud, low key and huge they even remember to round it off with a rousing 15 minute longtrack with an even longer title. When you’re already doing a 70s prog album in 2012 you might as well go all the way. It pays off.