Crippled Black Phoenix – Ellengæst Review

I’ll open this review with the sentence I used to close my last Crippled Black Phoenix review: Crippled Black Phoenix are a band I want to like more, but the material continues to fall short of their potential. And with that thought the band’s latest album, Ellengæst, was bestowed upon me, giving me several weeks to think about how I’d be going in with high expectations (though not as high as that horse on the Great Escape cover) and coming out feeling like I’d only eaten half a meal. A quick scan of the promo material did raise an eyebrow: the size of the band has been cut in half (CBP have always been immersed in drama), and there are a number of interesting guest vocalists as a result. That, and a sense that the remaining members have been unshackled from the burden of drama, lend themselves to newfound interest on my part.

Perhaps due to the “constriction” of the lineup or the absence of drama, who knows, but there is a definite change in the feel of Ellengæst relative to recent CBP efforts. The music is more visceral, more primitive, more spontaneous. It’s almost a feeling of freedom that comes through. Combined with the varied vocal performances, there is a sense of urgency, almost desperation, in some of the songs. An epic, grandiose feel permeates the album, and one can’t help thinking of Anathema. That isn’t hurt by the fact that Vincent Cavanaugh sings on the first two tracks, lending “House of Fools” and “Lost” a tragically romantic vibe. It also helps that the songs here are the band’s most consistently strong in years.

The dark progressive rock of CBP will cater to fans of bands such as Katatonia and the now-defunct Anathema. “Lost” – which is embedded below, and I warn, the video will be incredibly upsetting to some of you – features band member Belinda Kordic on lead vocals, with Cavanaugh supporting her on the choruses. The song is larger than life, and while the video is honestly too shocking to stomach, “Lost” deserves repeat listens, as does the rest of the album. The guest vocals are all superb: Gaahl (Gaahl’s Wyrd) duets with Kordic on the fatalistic “In the Night,” sounding like a crooning Mike Patton. Ryan Patterson (Crippled Black Phoenix’s touring bassist) takes a turn on the mic for the airy, upbeat “Cry of Love,” and Tribulation’s Jonathan Hultén sings “The Invisible Past,” the longest, saddest, and most delicate song on the album.

Production remains murkier than it has to be, although it does suit the material. Rather than attacking, the drums have a claustrophobic feel to them. A lighter hand in the mastering studio might give the songs more room to breathe. And the penchant for adding narrations or voiceovers when the songs don’t require them might disengage listeners. That being said, the pacing and arrangement of Ellengæst is bang on, even with the oddly new wave/punky “She’s in Parties” closing things out. Kordic’s vocal turns give songs like this an eerie feel. And despite the excellent guest vocals, Kordic is in fact the strength of the album, as evidenced in the magnificently dark “Everything I Say.”

Depending on where you get your translation, Ellengæst means either strong spirit or mischievous demon. Both are apt for Crippled Black Phoenix, as they manage to deftly walk the line between those two definitions as artists and as a band on an album that comes closest to succeeding from start to finish since 2012’s (Mankind) The Crafty Ape. The variety in vocal performances and the strength of the songwriting have me coming back to this album more than any of the band’s last three (with the exception of “Champions of Disturbance” off Bronze, one of my favorite songs of the decade), and that’s something that I’ve been hoping to do for years now.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: PCM
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: October 9th, 2020

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