There really is no place for Crippled Black Phoenix in what is considered to be the popular musical landscape of 2010. They’re called Crippled Black Phoenix for heavens’ sake, and they consistently try to muddy the waters of their identity – there’s a small section on their MySpace detailing what they aren’t, but little of what they are. After some digging, it’s still a mystery. But funnily enough, after one cycle of I, Vigilante, it becomes clear that it’s for the best.
Sure, there’s currency in knowing about band leader Justin Greaves’ past in the likes of Electric Wizard or Iron Monkey, as well as the musical history of singer Joe Volk (formerly of Bristolian riffmonsters Gonga) or the sweet tinklings of pianist Daisy Chapman’s solo work, and it’s not like CBP are exactly an unknown quantity to the more adventurous listener. But I, Vigilante deserves to be embraced, not for its pedigree or associations with other bands and musicians but for its glorious richness.
On I, Vigilante, CBP’s greatest talent is making a song feel both sky-crackingly epic and intimate at the same time. Take We Forgotten Who We Are, a thundering storm which lasts 11 minutes and powers through sections of head-nodding chug guitars to a sunrise of happy melody and back: just when the noise is getting too much they rein it back with, of all things, a squealing guitar solo before dropping into the bittersweet Fantastic Justice. Taken as one movement across almost 20 minutes it’s a staggering display of songwriting, with twists and turns that make the band sound like a mini orchestra – horns, strings, crashes and swoons all abound, with Greaves the dark conductor in the middle. It’s stirring stuff.
The spoken-word section at the beginning of Bastogne Blues, from a war veteran remembering killing a German soldier during the siege of Bastogne and its effects on him over the last 60 years – "He was like a little angel, but I still had to shoot him" – is a perfectly evocative opening to a genuinely troubled song. CBP’s command of bleakness is at its strongest here; you could call it cinematic but that doesn’t really come close to describing this song’s emotional resonance. And just when I, Vigilante threatens to fold in on itself in a black hole of misery, a faithfully screaming version of Journey’s Of a Lifetime shows they have a sense of humour, and some seriously sweet guitar tones.
Does it make sense? Not really, unless you remove the context of the album and consider CBP to be an amorphous group without one particular identity just doing what makes them tick. Which, brilliantly, is what they are.
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