Have you ever enjoyed a band so much, that you are overcome with shock upon hearing that nobody else in the Toilet is aware of them? Today I am going to try to sell you on Crippled Black Phoenix, one of the best post-rock bands I’ve discovered upon my travels.
Before we begin this journey, please click play on the following video while you read. This was the first song by the band that I heard, and so I want to engage you all in a similar experiment.
Crippled Black Phoenix is mostly a project of Justin Greaves (Electric Wizard, Iron Monkey) and a group of familiar musicians from other similar bands. They’ve officially been around since 2004 and have had a nebulous lineup over those years. A few weeks ago I posted a question in the Facebook Group, “Have you heard of [them]; and if so, what is your favorite song?” Here are a few of my favorite responses:
- Boss the Ross: “Never heard of [them]. But I do listen to Incapacitated Grey Canary”
- TrickleDownTacoRiff: “I dont know the band but I’m here to support your efforts with a figurative shoulder rub!”
- D. Lee: “I remember really digging that album rec you sent me a few weeks ago.”
So only one person in the group knows of the band’s existence, and it’s because I told him about it. Well I have been enjoying this band quite a bit, as they satisfy the prog-rock and post-rock shaped holes in my heart; therefore I want to share their excellence with you. With a little write-up about each major album – and a big write-up about one of my top 10 albums of all time – perhaps I can make a fan out of you too. Let’s start with…
2007 – A Love of Shared Disasters
I should have started with the next one, because A Love of Shared Disasters interests me not. Parallel to how I feel about Genesis‘s debut LP, the band is different enough in the early years that I don’t care to make it a common listen within my collection. This album does not rock the way future ones do; and conversely when this album tries to be very sad, there’s no intense dread like what would come later. Here is my summary: don’t start with this one, only come to it later on if you find you have become a giant fanatic.
2010 – I, Vigilante
This LP is a good collection of similarly structured songs that doesn’t include much in the way of segue tracks or filler. Each one falls in the 10-minute (+/-) category and does a good job of providing an intro and an outro with some killer music contained within, perfectly embodying the spirit of post-rock with quieter beginnings that lead into more chaotic endings.
We begin with those morose and blues-y riffs that perfectly illustrate how different a beast this album is than its predecessor. Five minutes into the first track “Troublemaker” and the band launches into a fast-paced rock session similar to what Pink Floyd did in “Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Part 2” before returning back to its initial speed. Next is the piano-heavy “We Forgotten Who We Are,” with a unique vocal approach in which the lyrics themselves are delivered one syllable at a time over the drum beat. Immediately following is “Fantastic Justice,” again utilizing the piano in the forefront of the music but also adding a horn section over the hook. This song drips with atmosphere over its smooth swagger and twangy guitar licks; and if society crumbles apart and we are reduced to a wild west-like setting, I want to hear “Fantastic Justice” when I walk into a saloon.
There’s nothing amazingly memorable about the rest: another more quiet song that features a female vocalist and a quirky guitar riff that reminds me of The Cure‘s “Love Song” (although results may vary) and a hidden track that’s way too happy to be serious. I, Vigilante is a very good listen, but in the end it is still just a collection of songs. The whole package isn’t perfect, but there are some serious yet wacky tunes that I really dig.
2012 – [Mankind] The Crafty Ape
I’m just going to tell you right now, this album is a 10 for me, in fact it is probably in my top 25 albums of any genre. I heard about it through someone else’s top 10 lists for 2012 (I’m sorry I can’t remember who or where) and my investigations led me to the song posted at the top, and I instantly fell in love. I’m going to go into further detail with the album because I believe the quality of the material justifies it.
From the get-go, Crippled Black Phoenix instills a trust in the listener. The first song “Nothing (We Are…)” is a 1:25 intro that features an odd mixture of busy instruments, tricking the first-time listener into thinking it’s an overture… but it ends up feeling more like a musical ‘”flexing of the muscles” with its cacophonous nature. It’s over quickly and transitions right into the second song, “The Heart of Every Country” which packs a morose wallop to your feels with its doom-esque pace, post-guitar riffs, and — dare I say it? –leads and solos that invoke the spirit of Dave Gilmour. You may not notice that 10 minutes have passed by the time it’s over, meaning the band has successfully convinced the listener that checking one’s watch is not advisable whilst jamming this album.
Okay so there’s that song, then “Get Down and Live With It” from the beginning of my article, a short keyboard segue, and then track #5 “A Letter Concerning Dogheads” which is the most morose song by the band I’ve ever heard. This feels absolutely sorrowful but still interesting! Next we come to a fascinating song in “The Brain / Poznan”, as it weaves two bizarrely different songs together with an insanely crafty transition, almost impossible for me to describe and therefore I implore you to give it a listen on YouTube.
The whole album drips with quality, there are layers upon layers of instrumentation that only go to help each other in the best way possible. It’s long, but we already talked about having some faith in the band in terms of quantity of art. “Laying Traps” is a tribal, anthemic butt-kicker that makes a person want to “rise up and fight!” (Against what, I know not, but the official video can be seen here). The confident and seductive female vocals heard in “Get Down and Live With It” make a return in another song later on too, which is much appreciated. “A Suggestion (Not A Very Nice One)” is a straight-up cheesy homage to classic rock jam sessions like Pink Floyd might have stumbled upon. The people who enjoy this style of music are going to adore (Mankind) The Crafty Ape, as it is perfect for its genre.
2012 – No Sadness or Farewell [EP]
It’s nigh impossible to follow up a masterpiece, so perhaps releasing an EP, albeit it 45 minutes in length, is a good way to soften any following blow. “How We Rock“s first five minutes sound exactly like something off of I, Vigilante, but then quickly transforms into one of the best post-rock songs ever recorded — heck it could serve as a
blueprint benchmark for all future post-rock songs. It demonstrates quite the dynamic pace that starts out slowly and continually builds momentum with slowly metered-out instrumentation. By the song’s climax, church bells can even be heard in the distance! Once again, we as listeners have been provided 12 beautiful minutes that breeze by effortlessly.
Next up is my second favorite Crippled Black Phoenix song, “Hold On (So Goodbye to All of That).” It’s a rather simplistic tune that proves: with the proper melodies, a song will succeed regardless of technical skill. Beware, the chorus may get stuck in your head for days to come. The rest of the EP doesn’t have any standouts unfortunately but none of that matters because the first half — just the two aforementioned tracks — are so good. If the band could benefit from one small improvement, it’s consistent song quality within each album… other than that they have the recipe for success.
2014 – White Light Generator
There’s no point in having an elephant in the room: while this album is good, it is not great (and the general consensus among fans agrees). I don’t know if it’s because they just raised the benchmark a few years prior (although the EP still held up quite well) or if it’s just a small chip in an otherwise solid discography. They make one sizeable mistake immediately with the 2:12 long, tongue-in-cheek, acoustic folk song that ruins any potential momentum the album could have begun with… like the stellar second and third tracks “No! [Part 1]” and “No! [Part 2]” could easily have (as evidenced below):
That one-two punch (and I don’t even know why it was split into two in the first place) sets a goal in quality that just seems to drop from there. It’s never bad, just never that good. There are lots of variations in song structure and tone, but I think most of the scattered portions of songs are too short and aren’t given time to blossom. Having said that, believe me when I praise the embedded songs above, for I could have linked nothing!
2015 – New Dark Age [EP]
Ah-ha! My suspicion that the band were Pink Floyd fans has been 100% confirmed with this release, which includes covers of “Echoes Pt. 1” and “Echoes Pt. 2”. But first we must discuss the first half of the EP (yes, I’m discussing halves of an EP) which starts out with a short tune way more DOOM inspired than we’ve ever heard from the band! Next up is a 14-minute progressive jam session that’s more than likely really good, it’s just difficult to concentrate when knowing — as a listener — about the gloriousness that’s to come. But it is a great, epic track indeed.
Bringing up said Pink Floyd covers, this is probably a good stopping point. If I haven’t talked your ears off already, use them to jam the second half of their “Echoes” cover project (which is only fair since I left you with the first half on my Pink Floyd covers article). Meanwhile, they’re on Bandcamp, Facebook, and The World Wide Web!
I love this band. I have a feeling many of you will too. They are a grower, and there is a lot of material to absorb — which will be intimidating (hell, to them 45 minutes constitutes an EP), especially if post-rock isn’t your thing. Well, post-rock combined with classic rock, psychedelic rock, doom and a little western (or something). So how did I do? Did I make a sale? If not, can you come up with more funny responses?