Great Escape by Crippled Black PhoenixRelease date: September 14, 2018
Label: Season of Mist
I came to know Crippled Black Phoenix via the link to Mogwai’s Dominic Aitchison, if it hadn’t been for that they would probably have flown under my radar. Whilst not following their releases with any real fervour I still managed to sit up when I heard the track ‘Nebulas’ from their new album Great Escape. Having said that, the initial decision to review this 74 minute opus was deflected as there wasn’t enough time to try and absorb such a sprawling and majestic body of work. Justin Greaves has certainly pulled out all the stops and created a masterpiece, albeit the size and scale of the album does mean there are the odd moments where the high standard veers.
The intentions and themes of the album are laid out from the start with the terrifying ‘You Brought It Upon Yourselves’, an elongated intro featuring random samples declaring the end of times, eerily close to how the world is heading. If Godspeed You! Black Emperor had vocals and decided to write a structured song, it would probably sound a lot like ‘To You I Give’. Driven by stabbing guitars the track features a monumental chorus bursting with hope yet aching with melancholy. Daniel Anghede’s voice rising just above the setting marked ‘barely arsed’ but it is extremely effective as it melts with hefty guitars and monstrous bass. As the song builds the guitars transform into seismic waves of sound and piano adds a ghostly element as singular notes strike with the crashing cymbals before being left to fend for themselves as the tumultuous track winds to an end.
The brief instrumental interlude constituting ‘Uncivil War (Pt 1)’ merely provides some unnecessary filler before the ridiculously out of place ‘Madman’. Throbbing bass synths provide the backdrop for Dr Who style loopy tones as the song takes on the demeanour of a duff Depeche Mode track. The end of times theme pitched up from the opening track continues in ‘Times, They Are A Raging’, a haunting ballad featuring atmospheric keys and lush piano washing over funereal percussion. The calm is short-lived as the song hyper shifts into a furious apocalyptic rocker with wondrous snaking keys arching high melodies over the thunderous instrumentation. As the track comes to a weary end, who knew accordion and piano could work so well together?
Some tracks will absolutely floor you with sheer brilliance, ‘Rain Black, Reign Heavy’ being a prime example. A twanging guitar and ghostly howling conjure images of deathly deserts. Bleak lyrical couplets such as “if the floodgates open, will it ever end? How many times do I have to die?” intensify the darkness. When the spaghetti western brass wanders into the mix like an unwanted stranger with menace on their mind, it is genius. Suddenly the ground shakes as pounding drums and stabbing guitars warn of impending doom. The track erupts into a stunning and dramatic end with a sublime melody as a choral vocal posse chant “rain black, reign heavy”. Should members of Broken Social Scene ever be allowed to infiltrate Godspeed You! Black Emperor, I expect the outcome would be something like this.
‘Slow Motion Breakdown’ takes a while to get going with scattershot ideas that refuse to settle into anything tangible before jumping feet first into a post metal well of wailing solos, pounding drums and a rumbling wall of distortion. A creepy fairground weirdly rounds of proceedings, but it’s another track where my attention wanders. The aforementioned ‘Nebulas’ finds Belinda Kordic providing a heart-breaking vocal, her voice fragile and emotive as she offers profound heartfelt apologies for animal cruelty. Introducing the song is a chilling and thought provoking sample “to the animals, all people are Nazis”. Now some might not want to hear such a comparison but I’m reminded of U2’s ‘New Year’s Day’ as the piano is allowed to strike at just the perfect moment punctuating the galloping beat and propulsive guitars.
Firing up with what sounds like a recording of a street fight, ‘Las Diabolicas’ is a furious but claustrophobic rocker with freight train beats, violent guitars and a droning robotic vocal drifting over the top of the mix intoning “the walls are closing in on you tonight”. Then it’s time for the grand finale, the two part title track. ‘Great Escape (Pt 1)’ is a shimmering duet between Daniel and Belinda, their voices melting together over a slow and desolate backdrop of delicate guitars and soft percussion. The fear and paranoia brought on by dark events exacerbated with lines like “There’s a place I’m going…where the dark won’t find me”. Images of desolate deserts flicker into your mind as the spaghetti western brass returns from a bloody shootout for what is a mesmerising moment that will send shivers down your spine.
The second serving ‘Great Escape (Pt 2)’ is a sprawling track that begins with a muscular combination of thudding drums and taut guitars, like a less malevolent Jesus Lizard. There’s a simmering tension and you know something epic and captivating is coming. Well, that’s what you expect, but instead the initial flurry ebbs away into a passage of melancholic strings and you feel yourself falling in slow motion into a bright light. When you wake up, you’re back in that desert wasteland accompanied by a gently strummed lone electric guitar. Turns out it is being played by Roger Waters and the closure to the album flows into a remarkable Pink Floyd-esque spacious instrumental. Featuring beautiful fluid guitar solo work and wondrous strings the end vision is one of euphoria and ultimate unbridled joy at the sheer relief of leaving this despicable hate filled world to a better place. It is truly heart-breaking.
For the most part, The Great Escape is an album that pulls you into a bleak and sombre world, only allowing you to rise above the gloom occasionally. The music is captivating throughout and the balance of heaviness and melancholic melodies is nigh on perfect. Possibly, a little clipping here and there would keep the attention but when compared to the elongated drone sequences on GY!BE albums, it’s imminently more palatable. As the world around us turns to shit, this album forms the essential soundtrack. In a year of outstanding music, Crippled Black Phoenix have added to an already bursting playlist of excellence with The Great Escape.