“The worst part of hell is not the flames/It’s the hopelessness/And I think that is the part of hell that a person in depression really tastes/The terrible hopelessness that comes over.”
One of the many interludes Crippled Black Phoenix have used over the years, but on their latest release, Ellengæst, this may be the most telling yet.
The band had been building up a head of steam over the past five years. Bronze was well received while 2018’s The Great Escape was the best thing the band had done since 200 Tons of Bad Luck.
Like the above namesake, the storm clouds are never far away where this band is concerned and this time it came in the way of singer, Daniel Änghede, leaving the band at the back-end of last year.
Less Bells: Mourning Jewelry – “an album for solitude to escape everyday burdens”
Yet gain, it was left to guitarist and band leader, Justin Grieves, to undertake the task of scouring the bleakest corners of the world to extract some worthy misfits to latch on to this incessantly wounded beast.
And he’s done a good job, drafting in an array of talent from the backwaters of Europe and beyond, including Tribulation’s Jonathan Hultén, Anathema’s Vincent Cavanagh, and former singer of Gorgoroth, Gaahl Wyrd.
The end result is Ellengæst. An affair oozing with anxiety, bursting with tenderness, and simmering with rage.
Crippled Black Phoenix have always been purveyors of shadowy subversive interpretations of hard-rock and on Ellengæst things are no different.
Led by Cavanagh, opening cut, House of Fools, is an stirring start, mixed with those trademark maelstroms of tremolo and Crippled Black Phoenix‘s customary end-time balladry emerging from the darkness in the way of crestfallen pianos and minimalist brass.
Belinda Kordic takes the vocal reigns on Lost ‒ a rampant call-to-arms filled with guitar pile-ons and tumbling percussion, adding to the long list of outsider anthems Crippled Black Phoenix have delivered over the years. This one, however, cuts a little bit deeper with the bellowing chorus of “We are lost as humans”. There’s no better time for a song like this to be born into this world.
“In the night when all your sadness is by your side/Pull back the curtains/Yesterday’s gone/Tomorrow may never come/Rule out this darkness and await the rising sun” sings Wyrd on In the Night. Kordic‘s gentle choral provides a hymnal crossover to this Pink Floyd-inspired whirring rocker that is shrouded in the apocalyptic mythology Crippled Black Phoenix have essentially made their own.
Steve Von Till: No Wilderness Deep Enough – “connecting the dots between existentialism and a dream state”
Fresh off the release of his brilliant album, South of Heaven, Fotocrime‘s Ryan Patterson (who also played bass on the band’s 2019 UK/European tour) guests on Cry of Love ‒ the finest moment on Ellengæst.
It’s sound of horses marauding through the rain-soaked forests of a winter night as Patterson‘s melodic brogue proves the decisive weapon, particularly through the chorus as he sings, “I hear your cry of love/No one can steal it away”. One would be hard-pressed to hold an ear to a better song all year.
Then there’s Everything I See. An ice-witch dirge that feels like a soundtrack whilst sailing the high seas.
Crippled Black Phoenix have always been the modern day masters of emotionally-charged epics and The Invisible Past continues in the cauldron of long-form songs that are well-deep in despair, bringing listeners to their knees.
While perhaps not as crushing and immediate as The Great Escape Parts I and II, The Invisible Past still holds that burning intensity that cloaks the listener in misery and burden.
With yet another significant line-up change, Ellengæst could have been a disaster, potentially spelling the end for Crippled Black Phoenix. Not only is Ellengæst a decisive chapter to the band’s turbulent history – so turbulent they are the top dogs in the school of hard knocks. It also tells the story of a band truly opposed to throwing in the towel. In doing so it bestows their position in the current landscape as truly immortal.
Ellengæst is out now via Season of Mist.
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