With their previous album Ellengæst, Crippled Black Phoenix dialed noticeably down on experimenting, focusing on improving the overall sonic experience and tighter songwriting. The result was rather strong and more approachable record, which worked rather well, but perhaps lacked some surprises and that edge that was a part of band’s previous releases.
Now less than two years later the band is back with the follow-up in form of a double album. It sure does seem that Crippled Black Phoenix is one of those bands that really did use COVID-19 downtime to their advantage.
Banefyre see the band continuing in the path set by its predecessor, meaning that it’s very well produced record and the band’s songwriting is strong and focused. On the other hand, new album also sees the band letting loose and daring to experiment a great amount.
Unlike its predecessor, the new album doesn’t feature a long line of guest vocalists, so the vocals duties are split between band’s longtime member Belinda Kordic and new addition to the band Joel Segerstedt.
With that rich well balanced sonic picture in place the double album opens with intro of sorts, which features minimalist, yet interesting instrumentation and rather lengthy prologue delivered by Shane Bugbee. Monologue is rather direct and condemnatory in its form and as such it comes as bit surprising, especially taking into the consideration of the overall well-rounded approach of the album. The themes presented in the intro, however, match those of the album utterly, but its rather direct delivering that stick as a sore thumb, comparing to the rest of the album. On the other hand, the themes discussed on this album are of very high relevance, impact and urgency, so perhaps opening the album in such a way underlines the resolution of these topics.
Banefyre is a massive work, with so much to get into, not only because of its +90 minutes running time, but because of complexity of the material and nonetheless the extremely creative and effective arrangements.
The stunning beauty of the melody in the actual opener “Wyches And Basterds”, is matched by Kordic’s vocal performance, which draws parallel to those wholehearted vocals performances from The Walkabouts singer Carla Torgerson. Kordic also impresses on “Ghostland”, which extracts loads out of the somewhat simple repetitive chant. There is a hypnotic quality to this song, which leaves the listener like a deer caught in headlights. Once the almost 6-minute-long song concludes, one feels like this is one of those songs that could just loop perpetually.
Next couple of songs “The Reckoning” and “Bonfire” have at first glance more of a straightforward in their approach, with catchiness of The Mission and infectious chorus which once again gets you to think of (heavier version) of The Walkabouts. The initial straightforward feel of the songs might be dominating one but with each next spin the masterful complexity of arrangements truly shines. They don’t steal the focus from the song yet make it vibrant and interesting.
The album also includes four songs which pass the 10-minute mark, which is a lot to process, nonetheless in this time and age. But that being said, majority of those who pick up a Crippled Black Phoenix record are quite aware that they need to invest time and focus into it. They are perhaps even looking forward to just that.
So how do these long epic tunes work on Banefyre? Rather well, actually. There is smoothly flowing dynamic to them, and the very core of songwriting is strong.
This makes all four songs rather strong. One might lack a true riff orgy at the end of “Rose of Jericho”, because song simply builds up to it. “Down the Rabbit Hole” is mesmerizing throughout the +10-minute running time with especially gorgeous guitar soundscapes and almost anthemic finale, standing out. Similar can be said about “I’m Ok, Just Not Alright”, while the closing “The Scene is a False Prophet” could use some trimming off the 15-minutes it runs.
Elsewhere on “Blackout77” the band masters making speech samples extremely rhythmical, evocative, and even catchy, while “Everything Is Beautiful but Us” is a masterclass in how to implement ever-unfolding vitality of arrangements into a short, catchy single kind of song.
On Banefyre Crippled Black Phoenix have taken all that they’ve improved on Ellengæst, (production, compact songwriting etc.) and applied it to this massive complex framework.
The sonic and conceptual layers as well as the way the band applies them, effortlessly pulls the listener into its gorgeous eerie universe. The album also keeps a firm grip on the listener’s attention despite its very long running time but trimming few songs slightly and perhaps dropping one song completely would serve it well.
With Banefyre the band has created a staggering album, the most comprehensive of their entire career, on which the band unleashes their colossal potential. And they’ve done it on their own terms.