Crippled Black Phoenix explode with classic rock fire mixed into destructive horrors on ‘Bronze’

Photo by Zsolt Reti

Photo by Zsolt Reti

We’re apparently living in the era of the depleted attention span. That’s obvious simply driving on the road, with people distracted by any number of things, sometimes leading to crunching car wrecks. The album format never has been less embraced by the masses, and everything seems delivered in tiny bites, lest the larger serving be eclipsed by something tinier.

That’s probably a strange way to talk about “Bronze,” the great new record from Crippled Black Phoenix, but anyone who can’t commit to a larger vision might want to back out slowly. Those who still relish an entire album as if it’s a cinematic experience meant to be drunk and absorbed, then this might be the heavy dose of dark imagination you’ll need to get through the autumn and winter. On this, the band’s sixth studio album, things never have been bigger for the band. We’re talking scope, sound, and inspiration, as this group has expanded their reaches so far, they practically stretch across the universe now. This 10-track, 69-minute adventure is filled with cynicism, anger, disillusion, sadness, and every other emotion that could tug at your heart and mind. Sometimes they’re trying to band the fringe parts of the world together to battle alongside them, and at others, they’re wallowing in the ash. No matter what angle you take, you can’t miss the heavy shadows hanging over this thing.

cbp-coverCrippled Black Phoenix have been at a creative high for about a decade now, delivering five crushing records between 2007 and 2014 (their last full-length is 2014’s “White Light Generator”) and a bunch of smaller releases (their most recent was last year’s eye-opening “New Dark Age,” their first for Season of Mist). The band is fueled by founder and multi-instrumentalist Justin Greaves, who along with guitarist/vocalist Daniel Änghede and synth player/sound engineer Mark Furnevall make up the group’s core. Along with them on this record are a slew of musicians including Daisy Chapman (piano); Ben Wilsker (live drummer); Jonas Stålhammar (guitar, hammond, synth); Belinda Kordic (vocals, banshee); Tom Greenway (bass); as well as guests Chrissie Caulfield (violin, harp, fog horn); Arthur Young (piano); Arvid Jonsson (who puts in a tremendous vocal performance on “Turn to Stone”) and Robert Holm (trumpets). That’s quite a team, but when you tackle this record, you’ll hear how each contribution is vital to the record’s massive DNA.

The record is book-ended with quotes from the 1974 film “Dark Star,” with the first coming on instrumental opener “Dead Imperial Bastard,” where synth unfurls and murky sounds send chills. The track moves through cosmic density, into crazed cries, and directly toward “Deviant Burials” that is unsettling at the start. The singing drives the cynicism hard, especially with the call of, “No one will rise on judgment day,” as atmospheric synth rolls in, and the band lights up the Pink Floyd torches, which burn unabashedly throughout the record. “No Fun” is as dour as the title indicates, as the pace is shadowy and dark, with Änghede wondering, “Will I try to fight my way out?” before the song spirals away and ends in a corrosive state. “Rotten Memories” is a pointed and angry cut, a slower song but by no means a tender one. It has the venom of a Thom Yorke diatribe, especially with, as simple as the line sounds, he stabs, “Open your eyes,” almost as if he’s delivering a sobering slap to the entire world. Synth pulsates toward the end, and that bleeds directly into “Champions of Disturbance Pt 1 & 2,” which spends the first half of the song establishing an unsettling soundscape, and at about the 4:15 mark, the vocals soar, the soloing tears into the sky, and Änghede defiantly vows, “When all the kings go up in flames, we will break the spell you’re under.” The final minutes simmer in the madness, with a robotic voice and noise zaps setting into the stars.

“Goodbye Then” opens with cold guitars, as a fog thickens and the singing slips under the surface. The track has a mournful pall over it, as the drums rumble away. “Turn to Stone” runs 7:04, and is one of the most classic rock-steeped songs in the band’s history. Jonsson’s singing is raspy and reminds of John Fogarty in his glory days, while a psyche wash pushes over the song in some spots, and they channel Rush in others. As the song reaches its end, the guitars rinse over everything, and the cut comes to a huge, emotional crescendo. “Scared and Alone” is a tick off nine minutes, and it has steely guitars jarring and Kordic providing her quivery singing. Horns rise, and an apocalyptic haze pokes its head, with the pace spreading sorrow, the song bleeding along, and the power building as Kordic’s voice fades into the corners. “Winning a Losing Battle” is beefy at 9:15, and it feels outright threatening, as Änghede warns, “No escape from the fire,” once again pushing Floydian tones. Midway through, we hit a purposeful lull before wrenching noise floods, emotionally rattling melodies strike, and a psychedelic sweep turns out the lights. The 7:53 closer “We Are the Darkeners” has a huge open, with the urge, “Live to fight another day,” not coming off as surrender, but as a way to survive. Strong guitars and defiant singing locks the purpose into place, while Änghede declares, “We will always be the last to fall,” as the music fades into that “Dark Star” quote, and the dream of “circling the universe forever” sounds like the only way to escape the madness that has become our home.

If you’re disillusioned by what you see around you, and we’re less than a week away from a could-be catastrophic election here in America, “Bronze” will hit really close to home. This isn’t the first time Crippled Black Phoenix have delivered messages a little too sobering for comfort, but this one could be their most poignant, well-timed yet. This is a fascinating, fiery adventure that could make you want to float into space, past the stars, and never want to return.

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