Over the course of their career, Crippled Black Phoenix have refined their sound and become progressively more adventurous. Progressive is the operative word, because CBP certainly have the trappings of a prog rock band in the mould of Pink Floyd in their pomp, with a side order of Black Sabbath thrown in for good measure.
Given the average prog band’s propensity for concept albums, there’s naturally a loose theme running through (Mankind) The Crafty Ape. It apparently seeks to deal with “the corruption of mankind and injustice” and the fact that the album is split into three chapters whilst addressing these concerns merely ticks another prog box. Even with the scope of the double album running length, it is practically impossible to cover such a wide ranging scope, but where CBP excel is in instilling their music with their assertion that hope is not lost.
The darkness of opening volley Nothing (We Are) is little more than scene setting, and it soon gives way to The Heart Of Every Country and the pealing of church bells, a choir of angelic voices and the otherworldly cry of a musical saw. From here the band launch into an elegant but forceful groove that ebbs and flows; at times it’s wisp like, at others iron fisted. It’s during the latter stages that Floyd enthusiasts will get hot under the collar as the solos and chord changes lock together in an almighty Gilmouresque epiphany.
Get Down And Live With It changes tack slightly as it thunders into life with the rumble of toms and some remarkably forceful bass. It’s the vocals of Daisy Chapman that are most striking however, giving an impassioned edge to the soaring choir and orchestration. As the song reaches the midpoint, it morphs into an introspective delicate mood piece that invokes an altogether different but equally powerful spectrum of emotions as that of its tumbling introduction.
The instrumental electronica/field sounds combination of A Letter Concerning Dogheads draws yet more Pink Floyd comparisons but to tar Crippled Black Phoenix with that particular Pink brush is perhaps a little unfair. The final hymnal moments of The Brain/Poznan for example are both brutal, and uplifting; a perfect distillation of what Crippled Black Phoenix does so well, and a world apart from anything Floyd ever might have attempted.
Chapter II finds the band moving away from the expansive prog-infused soundscapes and becoming more direct. Born In A Hurricane chugs and blusters as its title suggests it might, whilst Release The Clowns loosens up a little, throws some horns into the mix and goes for the juggler.
A rootsier approach defines the third and final movement of the album, but even here, just when the blues of A Suggestion (Not A Very Nice One) heads towards the realm of the dirge, CBP release a tumultuous explosion of guitar into the mix. The immaculate folk balladry of Operation Mincemeat is a wonderful exercise in mixing the macabre and the beautiful and another example of Crippled Black Phoenix playing with contrasting emotions in their songs. This is an album that delights on so many levels. From the dreamlike qualities of the instrumental breaks, to the changes in timbre and tone it is all perfectly executed. The sheer courage of the band to try something so expansive is to be applauded, as is the fact that they do so without once disappearing into a void of pretension. Crippled Black Phoenix are soaring above the void, and no doubt considering it as a concept for the next album.