Crippled Black Phoenix – Banefyre Review

Is 97 minutes too much music? Is it unfair to judge albums simply for being long? Yes… and yes. Regardless, Banefyre presents us with 92 minutes of new Crippled Black Phoenix sounds plus one bonus track.1 Our own Huck N’ Roll has a mixed history with leading man Justin Greaves (Se Delan, ex-Iron Monkey) and his rotating cast of sound partners, but it can be tiring digesting the hours of music that this project puts out, so I’ve stepped in to give olde Huck a rest. While Greaves and co have had a few standout records over the years, such as 2020’s well-received Ellengæst or the crowd favorite I, Vigilante, this sometimes Pink Floyd, sometimes Mogwai, always verbose collective has had trouble remaining immediate and engaging. So, with Banefyre featuring a new vocalist, but holding some stability in the remainder of the cast, can this phoenix continue to soar?

Not so much a soar as a gentle catching of the wind. The CBP ethos matters as much as the music, which in some cases, feels secondary on Banefyre, lending it a powerful cinematic presence in their catalog. To start, the defiant noir aesthetic of “Incantation for the Different”—that would be tacky in other worlds—swings along a little background twang, the disgusted diatribe simmering with an outlaw nature: “think different if you’re rich and born silver spoon up your ass.” Reprising the mission, “Blackout77” recants the 1977 Harlem blackout through ominous synth backings and interjected clips of news stories that highlight the disproportionately affected and ostracized minority communities. And to provide a strangely twisted close “The Scene Is a False Prophet” dramatizes melodies from both the Simon & Garfunkel classic “The Sound of Silence” and Celine Dion‘s “My Heart Will Go On,”2 straddling the border of extreme cliché while making a grand, ironic statement about the uniformity of rebellion.

While the band’s chemistry rings clear throughout each glossy note of Banefyre, they, unfortunately, find comfort in settling into instrumental endeavors. Despite that, Belinda Kordic takes a prolific vocal role, with the first arch of Banefyre flowing seamlessly against her “Stevie Nicks at a pow wow” warble. She guides with a ghastly grace early album rompers “Wyches and Basterdz” and “Bonefire.” Unfortunately, we are lulled into a false sense of groove that reclaims its inertia as we hit the first over-baked number, “Rose of Jericho,” which eschews a comfortable end at the four-minute mark for an additional ten minutes of Explosions in the Sky theatrics. Not unlike the screeching shoegaze explorations of The Twilight Sad, CBP continues to create swollen crescendos throughout Banefyre with piercing, sustained guitar wails and atmospheric cymbal splashing—ear-pleasing histrionics that add more time than emotion on all of the longest tracks (each longest track exceeding ten minutes). 

Yet, for all I’ve complained about this album ignoring the idea of a curated experience, I find it hard to pull myself away from the beautiful soundscape mixed by Kurt Ballou (Converge, The Armed). Normally, I’d expect to be talking about how his hammering touch either adds a caustic atmosphere to an album or a brick to my favorite moments. However, Ballou’s rhythm forward energy pours into Greaves’ anthemic percussion to fuel an echoing, rebellious march. On tracks like the throbbing “Ghostland” and lightly-gothed “Everything Is Beautiful but Us,” Greaves’ rich kick and generously spread kit build beautifully to impactful and concise ends. Ballou, too, manages to maintain a deft hand when dealing with the wah-ful, spacey synth romp on “The Pilgrim,” which could have been a wonderful ending had CBP exercised a little restraint.

Alas, the album continues on for 30 minutes after that—restraint is not a word that Greaves seems to accept in his Crippled Black Phoenix world. And why should he? He’s got plenty to say, and despite his best efforts, the world, as he sees it, hasn’t really changed. Much like change, this album requires time… lots of it, and I don’t expect its daunting runtime and discursive approach to rope in any non-prog-curious fans. However, for those already initiated, or those who have been considering, there’s a lot to unpack on Banefyre—I’m not quite sure whether I’ve discovered every nook and cranny yet myself, and I’m not sure I will. Just don’t take it to The Queue, they might burn you at the stake.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist | Bandcamp
Websites: crippledblackphoenixsom.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/CBP444
Releases Worldwide: September 9th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. It rips in a way the rest of the album doesn’t.
  2. At least that’s what I hear…
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