[Season of Mist, 2020]
Intro: Lefteris Statharas
The fact that Crippled Black Phoenix have been absent from our (virtual) newsroom is a very positive thing. Drama and constant lineup changes have occupied our updates several times. Nevertheless, CPB have enjoyed great recognition in Greece with a cult following and especially after Great Escape they have enjoyed critical acclaim as well. Born from the mind, heart and soul of Justin Greaves, they tend to change their sound a between albums (undoubtedly part of it is due to the lineup changes). However, Greaves has repeatedly stated that he will always try to go outside of the box. In this strange year we live in Ellengæst is the new album that CPB present us and this time since they found themselves without a lead vocalist, Justin Greaves enlisted some guests to help with the vocals, and we may find some of them familiar…
The hidden weapon of CBP
Crippled Black Phoenix have a lot to be proud of. They have managed to build an impressive back catalogue without making any discounts or succumbing to any trends. Many changes in style and many incorporation of elements from different genres making it hard to fit any mold as a band. Ellengæst moves away from the more soundtrack-oriented Great Escape and is more focused songwriting wise. The starter House of Fools opens up with a trumpet but quickly changes the mood with a heavy and sludgy riff that basically resets everything. Because right after the reset things become calmer, more atmospheric, grandiose and perhaps due to Vincent Cavanagh’s guest appearance there are many instances that are reminiscent of Anathema.
Vincent Cavanagh appears also on the second track (Lost) which despite the unsettling video clip deserves many repeats as it is quite energetic and maybe the combination of lyrics and the imagery of the video clip it moves you in to actually taking some action. The voice of Belinda Kordic is the hidden weapon of this album as she’s quite unique and hopefully she will have more times to shine in the future of the band. Especially in Everything I Say, she elevates the track with her very theatrical and visceral interpretation that fits the doom and gloom of the album. The song goes through the quiet-LOUD-quiet transitions very masterfully with a nice simple piano melody and the hazy production of the drums and guitar emphasizing the dark character of the atmosphere.
The rest of the tracks are split in two categories. Firstly, very low tempo, slugish with heavy emphasis on the atmosphere. In the Night features guest vocals from Gaahl (Ex-Gorgoroth, God Seed etc) who does not provide black metal vocals but is almost reciting the lyrics with his very deep voice. The Invisible Past gives a nod to the early CPB albums with more post-rock and spacey atmospheres.
Then on the other side we have the new wave, post-punk tracks. Cry of Love is a quick five-minute track with Ryan Patterson and Suzie Stapleton handling the vocals. While it’s a nice upbeat and engaging song, it’s a bit incongruous compared to the rest of the tracks. Lastly, the album closer is a cover of Bauhaus’ She’s in Parties. Again, a very pleasant surprise and a great cover, however it leaves a taste that is different from the rest of the album.
The biggest problem of the album is pacing and flow. While the constant changes of the style and the spoken samples could work as a breather, they are so different that they actually take you out of the spirit of the album. While there are some great songs individually (Lost and Everything I Say are amongst my favorites) there is some cohesion missing. The secret weapon of this album is Belinda Kordic that elevates the songs and wouldn’t be farfetched to say that she elevates the guest vocalists as well.
7.5 / 10
It is a fact that in recent years Justin Greaves’s music vehicle had fallen into a quagmire, with the release of the mediocre albums Bronze and Great Escape. But with Ellengæst, Crippled Black Phoenix have certainly made a comeback. What stands out in the first place is the transformation of the line-up into a musical crew of distinguished personalities, such as those of Gaahl, Jonathan Hulten, Vincent Cavanagh, and Ryan Patterson, member the post-punk band Fotocrime. Their tremendously expressive voices, plus that of Belinda Kordic, effectively enrich Greaves’ emotionally charged and very catchy compositions. The post-apocalyptic / trippy / dark / post-rock in Ellengæst is adorned with goth / post-punk motifs (Cry of Love) in an extremely successful way, keeping in mind the choice to cover a timeless post-punk / goth rock hit (She’s in Parties). The first four compositions are impressive with unique hooks, riveting atmospheres and amazing performances by the guest singers. The only objection is the infinitely repeated chorus of Everything I Say and the somewhat endless The Invisible Past. If the aforementioned compositions were approached more substantially, Ellengæst would be considered one of the band’s best releases. However, keep in mind that the album includes several great tracks.
8 / 10