Born from a blizzard of horned cats, Crippled Black Phoenix bring you a twisted cinematic experience, handcrafted by a mercenary crew of musical outsiders, giving depth and gravity to regal songs about love, loss, tragedy and redemption. In 2006, during one of the hottest summers on record, the band recorded their debut album in Bristol and signed to Invada Records (run by Portishead's Geoff Barrow). The result is a collection of self-penned endtime ballads, a dark hybrid that is the culmination of all the members' eclectic influences. Using a blend of modern and Victorian era equipment, the band has produced a captivating, slow-burning sound that's both archaic and modern at the same time.
Review by Stewart Mason
With a full baker's dozen's worth of musicians listed, the debut album by the U.K.'s Crippled Black Phoenix is part of the whole post-Broken Social Scene concept of band as endlessly mutating collective, but A Love of Shared Disasters is considerably more mutant than most. The driving force behind the band is Justin Greaves, former drummer for sludgy art-stoner metal acts Iron Monkey and Electric Wizard, but the heaviness sporadically on display here owes more to Mogwai (whose bassist Dominic Aitchison is a key participant) and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, an obvious touchstone for the epic centerpiece "Long Cold Summer." Elsewhere, there are twisted fragments of Neutral Milk Hotel's lo-fi emo-psych, traditional British folk-rock in the Steeleye Span mold (complete with harmonium parts straight out of the Shirley & Dolly Collins songbook), tunes reminiscent of old sea shanties warped within an inch of their life (see the opening "The Lament of the Nithered Mercenary" and the vintage Fairport Convention gone doom metal feel of "The Northern Cobbler"), and unexpected hits of straight-up Sigur Rós ethereality. It shouldn't make a bit of sense, and it doesn't in any sort of logical way, but there's an underlying vision to A Love of Shared Disasters, a cracked singularity that keeps it from being just a random bunch of acid-fried weird ideas glued together higgledy piggledy.
Crippled Black Phoenix
A Love of Shared Disasters
In "Ramadan", the 50th issue of his Sandman comic book series, Neil Gaiman took some liberties with the myth of the phoenix. In cultural variants, the phoenix rises from its own ashes or inters them in an egg of myrrh. But when Gaiman's phoenix dies, it lays two eggs, "one black, one white: From the white egg hatches the Phoenix-bird itself, when its time is come, but what hatches from the black egg no one knows."
Now we know: It's a supergroup of sorts, one that leans heavily on the "doom" of its roots while forgoing the "metal." Performing material written by Electric Wizard drummer Justin Greaves, with Mogwai bassist Dominic Aitchison helping to set the tone, Crippled Black Phoenix has also drawn members of Pantheist, Gonga, and Seattle's 3-D House of Beef under its sooty wing. In Western thought, every concept creates its opposite, and if the phoenix embodies redemption and resurrection, Gaiman's black egg embodies downfall and annihilation. Crippled Black Phoenix's debut album (the first in a planned trilogy) follows suit with a collection of apocalyptic hymns.
There are flashes of salvation: "The Northern Cobbler" sets a Tennyson ballad, spoken in its original Lincolnshire dialect, against a languid, optimistic post-rock crescendo. The poem finds an alcoholic cobbler hitting rock bottom, then kicking the bottle and regaining his societal standing. But moments of uplift like this are few and far between, and the bulk of the album is taken up by a lugubrious plod. "The Northern Cobbler" also summarizes the ways in which the album doesn't satisfy-- it's an interesting idea that doesn't amount to much musically (the words are all but impossible to discern unless you read along with the original text, although there's some pleasure in the rhythm and texture of the brogue itself), and it's one of many impediments to the album's flow.
A Love of Shared Disasters is so eclectic that its parts don't cohere into a harmonious sum. There is a dominant mood of macabre gloom, familiar from slow-core depressives like Black Heart Procession, with an instrumental palette heavy on singing saw, vintage harmonium, accordion, strings, woodwinds, and other agents of creaky melancholia. The album is at its best when it plays into it. On opening track "The Lament of the Nithered Mercenary", a field of static and a baggy wheeze surround a monastic throat song by Andy Semmens, a droning basso who imbues dirges like this one and "My Enemies I Fear Not, but Protect Me from My Friends" with unique gravitas. "The Whistler" weaves a harmonic braid around an eerie minor-key theme. "Long Cold Summer", with its elongated, ramshackle progression, sounds like a goth Dirty Three.
But these superior moments have a tepid overall impact, largely because their cumulative force is blunted by the frequent insertion of songs that neither make sense in context nor impress on their own. Far too many tracks find Gonga's Joe Volk helming anonymous rock-structured songs that sound like a cross between-- I kid you not-- Calla and the Goo-Goo Dolls, derailing the ponderous momentum of the instrumental or Semmens-sung tracks every time. On "Really, How Did it Get This Way?", "Suppose I Told the Truth", and many others, Volk's generically gritty howl and amorphous acoustic guitar structures render the album's extraterrestrial atmosphere mundane. A supergroup needs to integrate its concerns to stick together, and it sounds like that didn't happen here. A Love of Shared Disasters wants to be two focused albums, a solid Semmens-fronted one and a mediocre Volk-fronted one. It's hard not to feel as if this phoenix crippled itself by shoving them together in one bloated package.
-Brian Howe, September 21, 2007