Review Summary: Yesterday's gone, tomorrow may never come, so let's rejoice today with this hell of an album.
The folks at Crippled Black Phoenix are cat people. I have this in good faith, because I'm also one of them. That may be the reason I have connected with their music for such a long time, or maybe not, maybe it's because they are just a collective of amazing musicians and song writers. Since the project took shape in 2004 radiating from the mind of Justin Greaves through wild, shapeless ideas and blurry notions about what he wanted to do, the collective has tanked through a decade and a half with an outstanding output of quality releases and remarkable live performances.
It wasn't until last year that long-time guitarist and vocalist Daniel Änghede left the band, leaving a void in the core sound of Crippled Black Phoenix that was quite tricky to fill. Greaves and co. were faced with two possible options, find a replacement and keep going as nothing happened or make the project evolve to, maybe, what it was always supposed to be: a hydra of many heads.
In 2020, Crippled Black Phoenix surfaces from the ashes with a brand-new album and an incredible line-up of vocalists to give voice to the eight tracks that form Ellengaest
, with full-time member Belinda Kordic stepping up as the main singer and showing she's more than capable to helm the ship with her expressive and enticing singing.
As such, Vincent Cavanagh from UK progressive legends Anathema, is the one in charge of starting things off with the explosive melancholy of "House of Fools". A wailing horn is soon crushed by a hammer of notes and then a Swan-esque, Cave-like beat takes over, with Cavanagh alternating between crooning and his usual belting in Anathema. As the rest of the tracks in Ellengaest
, the length of the track allows for different dynamics to be put in play, and CBP are masters of this craft. The song halts mid-track, a simple piano line of three notes, the formerly crushed horn and a fastly picked guitar melody take the tune somewhere beyond, ending in the usual CBP grandiose fashion.
Gaahl, from black metal titans Gorgoroth and currently of Gaahls Wyrd makes a superb spoken word performance in third track "In The Night", setting the tone of Ellengaest
, which is probably the darkest album of the band so far. The song is complemented with the mesmerizing voice of Belinda Kordic, who also fronts second track "Lost" with Anathema's Vincent Cavanagh taking the support role. Without spoiling the many surprises contained in these two tracks, I will just say that these first twenty plus minutes of CBP's latest release are among the best music that the band has ever produced.
For "Cry of Love", one of the first singles to be released and an ode to Willy, Nell and Tigger, may a paradise full of mice and things to scratch hold their feline soul, Greaves invited Ryan Patterson of Fotocrime (and also brother of Jaye Jayle's very own Evan Patterson) and rising star Suzie Stapleton, who has released also an amazing album this year titled We are the Plague
, which I strongly recommend. "Cry of Love" sounds like a new wave anthem on galloping drums, with Patterson taking the lead on vocals and Stapleton joining in its heartfelt chorus, continuing with the dark theme that dominates the album, which is also illustrated brilliantly through the work of Thanasis Stratidakis and Benedikt Demme from Erebus Art.
One of the highlights of Ellengaest
comes from a feature I was personally looking forward to when the album was first announced, and that is the one of Tribulation's guitarist Jonathan Hultén in the longest track of the album, the one titled "The Invisible Past". Clocking 11 minutes, the epic serenade starts with a spacious passage, with Hultén singing graciously over some simple guitar notes until the song builds around him in a way that recalls the best moments of CBP's past works like I, Vigilante
. As expected, the song takes a heavy doom approach half way through where Hultén shines as a vocalist, something he already proved with an album of his own in March this year titled "Chants from Another Place", where he showed that apart from being a riff factory, he's also a very accomplished singer.
closes with a splendid cover of Bauhaus' "She's in Parties", which is the second of the two covers included in the album, the first one being "Everything I say", from American singer songwriter Vic Chesnutt, and both being voiced by Belinda Kordic delightfully.
Crippled Black Phoenix's ninth full-length adds to the UK collective's practically flawless catalogue, with an album that combines the band's majestic blend of post-rock, doom and dark Americana with a new and refreshing line-up of vocalists breathing life to one of the best releases of 2020.