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Crippled Black Phoenix

Psychedelic/Space Rock

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4 stars This is the third album of CBP and their best effort so far. After two really good albums, it seems that the band have found their own identity, musically and lyrically. "I, Vigilante" is more like an EP (though it's more than 48 minutes long) before their forthcoming release. According to the band's website, there are are plans for a more comprehensive full-length album to be completed by the end of 2010.

Leaving behind the post-rock approach, CBP manage to sound more mature and still a lot like a 70's band, at least on the compositional and orchestrational level. There are no striking Pink Floyd influences here, and all songs serve as the vehicle of bringing the band's social and anti-war (but still very introvert) lyrics to the listener.

1. "Troublemaker" is about Guy Fawkes, the 5th of November 1605 and The Gunpowder Treason. The songs starts in a doomy and melodic spirit, builds slowly and speeds up after the five first minutes in a style reminiscent of heavy prog 70's bands before a magnificent slide guitar solo and a slow ending.

2. "We Forgotten Who We Are" continues in a more melancholic mood. The piano intro is followed by a cathcy vocal line (some alternative influences here) and once again the things get heavier and more progressive and there is another great guitar solo in the end.

3. "Fantastic Justice" is a rthymical mid-tempo song with simple lines and melodies and really interesting (and kind of peculiar) lyrics, so personal that they are hardly understandable, and yet seem like a dreamy confession.

4. "Bastonge Blues" is an anti-war song about the battle in Bastonge (Belgium) on December 1944. Typical of CBP, this one progresses slowly and its second half (instrumental) sounds like a soundtrack for the courage of the 101st Airborne Division (the lyrics before that were from their perspective as well).

5. "Of A Lifetime" is a cover of Journey's debut (1975) opener. The female vocals give a different aspect to this all-time favourite. The truth is that CBP respect the original version more than I expected. Even the guitar solo is basically the same as Neal Schon's, only a bit simpler.

6. The album closes with another cover, this time "Burning Bridges" originally of Mike Curb Congregation, which was used in the war film "Kelly's Heroes". This is the weak point in "I. Vigilante". The song has nothing to do with the rest of the album, being much softer and happier. I got really confused the first time I listened to the album.

Highly recommended to all fans of atmospheric slow/mid-tempo prog and post-rock.

Report this review (#300560)
Posted Sunday, September 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Third CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX release is recorded with a bit different musicians team, than previous one. Most important - Dominic Atchinson,former Mogwai bassist,isn't on board anymore.

Music itself is slightly different now as well, but in general still is same psychedelic post-rock with light indie smell in moments. Compositions are down/mid tempo, melancholic, usually keyboards based, but always with characteristic post-rock guitars over it. Even if music in whole sounds melodic, there are no bright tunes or memorable songs on this album.

Quite pleasant listening, but you will forget it at the same moment when last songs sounds will disappear. Your average psychedelic post-rock band's album, with all pros and cons.

Report this review (#306472)
Posted Sunday, October 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
3 stars 'I, Vigilante' - Crippled Black Phoenix (6/10)

At first impression coming off as a Pink Floyd tribute circa 'Wish You Were Here,' it wasn't long before Crippled Black Phoenix's third studio album 'I, Vigilante' showed a much wider range than what I expected at the start of my first listen. In a year blessed by a handful of astounding surprises, this melancholic rock group has created an album that begs for repeated listening, but despite some moments of real beauty and force here, there's the unsettling feeling throughout that despite all efforts, the album's great sense of promise is never completely realized.

While the opening guitar solo of 'Troublemaker' could have easily been pitched out of David Gilmour's songbook, Crippled Black Phoenix soon develops their sound to incorporate a great deal many more influences and sounds, although the sharpest resemblance to another band's style would be akin to Sigur Ros, with a melancholic, brooding and minimalistic post-rock approach being used for the most part of 'I, Vigilante'. On top of the Floydian themes being overtly used in the opener, 'Troublemaker' quickly works it's way into being a bluesy stoner rock number that surely echoes the band's association with Electric Wizard. While the song's slower groove feels like it drags on for too long, it is a promising entrance into 'I, Vigilante,' and it's straightforward, rocking nature is then starkly contrasted with the more subtle, delicate tendencies of 'We Forgotten Who We Are', a piece that when coupled with the third part 'Fantastic Justice' (which it segues seamlessly into), makes a nearly twenty minute long post-rock epic. These two songs share musical ideas and a similar, mostly instrumental approach that arguably works out to be the album's cornerstone experience. A minimalistic, gradually building and very introspective style works wonders after twenty minutes, and by the time it's over, some of the musical ideas- particularly those involving piano- may feel as if they were drawn out a bit beyond their welcome, but the effect of it is still beautiful and as good as any other post-rock released the same year. 'Bastogne Blues' is next, feeling like an old western film soundtrack bathed in the post-rock treatment, and gently driven by the quiet vocals of Joe Volk. The cello work works perfectly over the gated electric guitar, providing a perfect spiritual closer to the main body of the album.

Of course, there have been two tracks yet on 'I, Vigilante' that are yet unaccounted for. This is where the album begins to lose a great deal of it's magic, in no small part due to the fact that for the album's closer and reprisal (bonus track), Crippled Black Phoenix opts for a pair of covers. The first is a Journey cover of 'Of A Lifetime', which while it is performed quite well, it feels shallow compared to the lush work in the previous four tracks. An all-too repetitive central riff and some iffy female singing makes it a pretty poor note to leave the album on.

While 'I, Vigilante' shows a world of promise in some of it's stronger sections, the album's weaknesses rob it of being a completely satisfying release. However, had the two final tracks been replaced with even just a single extra original track, 'I, Vigilante' would certainly be an album to stand out above it's peers.

Report this review (#371535)
Posted Monday, January 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album is a pretty good listen from start to finish. Fans of this style of music will definitely find a lot to appeal to them; this is a guitar-heavy rock album with a lot of feel and space in it. (And by space, I mean in terms of compositions - the shortest is just under 8 minutes). As a result, each track has plenty of time to develop it's various themes and emotions, and does so well. The band also adds some extra depth to the music by letting the guitars rest every now and then and letting the piano or keys take the lead. Spoken words at the intro of some songs, especially the last, "Bostogne Blues", give the music a nice edge.

But Stephen! You might be saying. The shortest song is 2:31, not just under eight minutes - and it is two tracks after Bostogne Blues! Are you sure you listened to the full album?

And I will respond that yes, I have listened to the whole album, but the last two tracks really feel out of place here. These are covers, pop songs, sung by a different vocalist than the rest of the album and have a completely different feel. The last track, Burning Bridges, isn't even mentioned on the cover and could be considered a bonus track, but I like to do the same with Of A Lifetime as well. They really feel out of place on this slower, more atmospheric rock album.

Report this review (#372303)
Posted Monday, January 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars The hardest part of any band's career is to simply stay original, to stay away from the generic and the overdone, and to stand out as an entity worthy of any listener. However, in a world where music encapsulates our society, to stray away from the typical is no easy feat. Crippled Black Phoenix's newest release, entitled 'I, Vigilante' is a bloody brilliant piece; it's soothing, with it's soft piano melodies and harmonic brass overtones, yet harsh and brittle, with raging distorted guitars and haunting vocal crescendos. It's fantastic in almost every regard - except it's not entirely original.

This Scottish supergroup is no newcomer to the post-rock genre. Having members from many important acts of the 90s, such as Mogwai and Electric Wizard, one would expect quality from anything CBP puts out. While it still has all the conventions of your typical post- rock piece - introductory monologues, long guitar passages, and droning vocals - it takes inspiration from far too many other artists to stand out on it's own. From the very get-go, opener Troublemaker comes across as a worthy Pink Floyd tribute rather than an original musical escapade. While the instrumentation is solid without, again it falls flat with the nature of its execution. It was Gilmour I heard in the guitar, not CPB, and that's what bothered me ever so slightly.

Thankfully, as the album progresses, it matures, becoming far more flavourful and enjoyable. We Forgotten Who We Are is the album's strongest point, with a hauntingly sinister tone and an almost ethereal sound, a progressive masterpiece. It is on this track that we see CPB expand into their own territory. Rather than building upon the foundation of other bands, the band begins to draw out what *they* would like to sound like over the ten minutes rather than *who* they'd like to sound like. Fantastic Justice is a great piano-driven song, with Joe Volk putting forth his very best vocal performance, eluding the listener for another quaint eight minutes.

The last three tracks of the album are difficult to rate; while it is certain that Bastonge Blues, a harrowing, war-torn ballad, is pure bliss, Of A Lifetime and Bastonge Blues are lackluster at best. While I personally enjoyed the two cover tracks, many listeners will shy away at the prospect of a minimalist, modern Journey cover followed by a TV theme song cover. Not the wisest combination, but alas a talented attempt.

'I, Vigilante' is still my favourite post-rock/progressive album of the past two years. The dark, foreboding theme is enough to keep me coming back in the dark of the night when I have nothing better to do but pass the early hours with some thought-provoking music. A must- have, even despite the lackluster Journey cover.

Report this review (#454965)
Posted Monday, May 30, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars 8/10

'I, Vigilante' is a beautiful mix of Prog Rock and straight-forward Post-Rock.

'I, Vigilante' is Crippled Black Phoenix's third album already. According to the popular legend of music-wise artistic maturity, the third album is always the gem. This album in particular is a solid proof that most of the time, that statement is strangely true.

'I, Vigilante' is one of those albums that isn't quite for everybody: whoever cannot stand retro-melancholia should avoid this at all costs. Pink Floyd influences are everywhere in this guitar- driven Prog Rock LP, from the soothing guitars, to the soft vocals and the blue melodies. Flavors of Post-Rock can be easily sensed however, mainly because of a strong presence of cellos, piano, and various keyboard effects. Again, this is an album that is not one of the most cheerful ones out there: extremely melancholic in its nature, it does however push away any extreme negative feelings such as despair and grief. It is, simply, a beautiful record, composed of rich sonic textures, and at the same time being very straight-forward and dragging.

The genuine sense of melancholia and retro-feeling that invades the forty five minutes of length explore different worlds in each song: 'Bastogne Blues', possibly the most delicate and beautiful track of the album, faces themes of war traumas and nightmares: twelve minutes of slight climax, it has one of the most original sounding hooks of the entire album. 'We Forgotten Who We Are' has a more conventional feeling, but still remains a unique piece of work, for it's thought-provoking structure and lyrics concerning the death of traditions. 'Troublemaker', the opener of the album, is another highlight, once again being able to be original by using a quite conventional hook that reminds of the band's direct influence, Pink Floyd. But here there are also heavier, stoner-like guitars which give a different twist to the sad picture the song paints. 'Fantastic Justice' and the Journey cover that ends the album ,' Of A Lifetime', are two really good composition that, even though not adding new ideas to the album, still help in reinforcing it.

'I, Vigilante' is a beautiful mix of Prog Rock and straight-forward Post-Rock. An album that however isn't quite digested at first listen: certainly a grower, even for fans of the genre. But when the taste is acquired, it's hard not to catch it's strong emotional charge and not to glimpse the gloomy, yet haunting world it portrays.

Report this review (#705403)
Posted Monday, April 2, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars >p> CBP was my new discovery some time ago, and I became very excited! Up to the point that I realised that I was probably one of the last ones to discover them! hehehe I have listened carefully 3 of their albums so far, (200 tons, I Vigilante, The Crafty Ape), and I have to say that 'I Vigilante' is their best effort so far! I can't put them under the Progressive Rock banner, but they are Progressive in their own way...

This record is filled with melancholia, with Pink Floyd-like guitars, and some very good melodies. The only exception that really surprised me was the last rack that has nothing to do with the rest songs of the album! But nothing! Is like they have added a song from another band! Further than this, all the other songs are very nice songs, that I really enjoy every time I'm putting this album to listen. The 'hit' song here is 'We forgotten who we are' an 11 (almost) minutes melancholic tune, but the best moment for me is 'Fantastic Justice'. That song impressed me from the first listening, and is still my favorite. 'Bastogne Blues' is a simple anti-war ballad refering to the battle in the French town of Bastogne in the 2nd WW. (For the ones that doesn't know and want to learn, I strongly recommend the book or the TV series 'Band of Brothers'), and as for the cover version 'Of a lifetime' is surely a good one, but everytime I listen to it, I always put the original Journey's version afterwards...

In any case I surely recommend this album, especially to the younger Prog music fans, cause the sound will be closer to them, than the older ones... My Rating will be: 4 stars...

Report this review (#805575)
Posted Friday, August 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars Mashing up psychedelic space rock with a Floydian bent (filtered through Porcupine Tree's Millennial experiments in crossing over indie rock and space rock) on the one hand and post- rock on the other hand should in principle be an interesting and fruitful experiment; however, Crippled Black Phoenix, on I, Vigilante, accomplish the crossover by playing it safe a little too often - the space rock side of their sound doesn't go off on too many trippy-ass expeditions to the edge of infinity, the post-rock side churns away at a low burble and feels neutered compared to the likes of Godspeed or Silver Mt. Zion. There's nothing here to startle or surprise the listener, and consequently the end result is tame and unsurprising aside from an end-of- album left turn into twisted bubblegum pop, which is too little too late.
Report this review (#1074996)
Posted Sunday, November 10, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars I usually pay a lot of attention to album packaging, and not only because it's a Prog trademark to link tightly sleeve design and musical/lyrical content? but also because it's a substantial part of the price we pay for CDs. So, in the case of "I, Vigilante", I have to admit that, when I ordered this album, I had no idea whatsoever about its content, nor did I knew anything about Crippled Black Phoenix (since then my wife and I have come to like them a lot). I simply was attracted by its cover art. Since he was a very young kid, our son has always drawn ; quite early, he put aside his crayons and markers to use a pencil and, later on, pen and ink. It's called line drawing (or line art) and, up until his late teens, he seldom used any other technique. Even though nowadays, he draws and paints with other mediums, including computerized ones (he works as a UI artist for a video game company), from time to time, he comes back to what set him initially on his present course. That said, the German shepherd pictured on the sleeve obviously owes a lot more to printing techniques than to line drawing per se. But still, the vivid expression of the attack dog was what prompted me to buy the album in the first place, because it matched some wolf drawings my son had made years ago.

Then, after the record was delivered and I could do more than just admire the cover art, I ran through the booklet and discovered that the album was a reflection on politics, justice (and injustice) and war, with a special focus on World War II. And that plucked a string I wasn't expecting at all : I would never have thought that, in 2010, a band under the Psychedelic/Space Rock label would have been inspired to write about a war that ended before the middle of the previous century. Since I have been a history teacher for some time, it goes without saying that, even before listening to the album, I had an even greater interest to read the lyrics to learn how the band dealt with such a complex subject and what they had to say about after the event 65 years later.

Although the sleeve, the booklet and the CD itself show illustrations related to WW II, there are some pictures that don't seem relevant to the subject, such as a drawing of a fawn and an ibex at rest amid a nest of snakes on the inside back cover of the booklet and, on the back cover of the sleeve, a drawing of an owl with a third eye on its forehead. They might not seem relevant at first, but the first drawing could make sense symbolically (figures of innocence amid vipers), while the second one could be a metaphor of vigilance, forethought and wisdom. If so, then these images have a relevant meaning in view of the album content.

That said, the first song, "Troublemaker" (8:33), is not at all related to WW II, but instead to the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, the failed attempt against King James I of England and the Parliament in London by Catholic conspirators (among which were Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes). As for the music, well, it owes a lot to Pink Floyd, but that doesn't make it less authentic. To be original, musicians don't have to shed their influences or pretend they don't have any (which is impossible, since we always stand on the shoulders of others). Originality is how you use influences and your own experiences/tastes/leanings to express what you feel is best to convey the music and the lyrical content it carries. And, on that account, CBP deliver their own.

"We Forgotten Who We Are" (10:47) dwells on the fact that men don't seem to learn much from history : "As men make their own history, still they know we are chained / and bound by all the past traditions of dead generations [?] 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it', / to quote George Santayana". The song opens with Daisy Chapman's piano taking the lead. It's a light melody, with a touch of melancholy or sadness that becomes heavier when the rythm section and voice join in. As it happens elsewhere on the album, CBP use the music as a counterpoint or contrast to the lyrics. At mid-point, Danny Ashberry's Hammond and synth move along with the piano to push the melody on a grander or more ominous trajectory, opening on a vista that suggests that things have yet to be resolved. The end sees the piano tiptoeing again, but in a more reflective way than before, and then the guitar wails in, as if asking desperately for a resolution of the matter? but that one is still out of reach.

"Fantastic Justice" (7:54) is a bitter commentary on truth, betrayal and death. There is almost no gap between the previous song and "Fantastic Justice" and, since the opening piano part is quite similar to that of "We Forgotten Who We Are", the first impression is that we have a twofold song rather than two different tracks. Again, there's a Pink Floyd atmosphere, but this time, with the insisting piano ritornello and bluesing/rocking guitar in the back, it gets heavier, but then the piano and martial drumming tamper things down, until the song soars again. When female and male voices mix in, there is a feeling which evokes present day Mostly Autumn. The finale, sustained by the piano ritornello, is both grand, a bit more upbeat and anthemic.

"Bastogne Blues" (12:01) is about the siege of the Belgian city in December 1944 during the Battle of The Bulge. On the 15th, the German army started its multi-pronged push and US troops (outnumbered 5 to 1) had to retreat around Bastogne, only to be relieved on the 27 th, when elements from George Patton's Third Army finally broke the encirclement. The lyrics tell parts of the story, as seen from a soldier on the frontline ; it's both an ode to courage and a denunciation of horrors committed (among which the slaughter of 84 unarmed American prisoners of war by the Waffen-SS at Malmedy on the 17 th). It could've been a sad and doom/gloom piece, but it is instead arguably the most beautiful song on the album. It's a simple, romantic and Country-tinged ballad, acting as a brilliant counterpoint to the lyrics. Its main melody becomes both grand and cinematic in the finale when it soars and seem to encompass the whole battlefield area. As if the sky was clearing at last after days of harrowing bad weather and even worse pummeling by the enemy. As if we were now in the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft (just like the one pictured on the CD itself) and able to see the German army retreat and envision its eventual defeat in the months to come. As a footnote intended for those who are familiar with the folk rock scene in Québec in the '70s, I would point out that the main melody in "Bastogne Blues" is quite reminiscent of the 1974 major hit, "La Complainte Du Phoque En Alaska" by Beau Dommage.

"Of A Lifetime" (6:45) The song is a cover of the hit from Journey's eponym and prog album of 1975. Since I didn't know the song previously, I cannot compare it to the original. It's the most psychedelic track on the album, alternating soft rock female singing with bursts of fiery guitar à la West Coast. Whatever its purpose on the album, its a magnificent track : fully Prog, yet rocking full tilt !

"Burning Bridges" (2:31) was written by Lalo Schifrin and Mike Curb, and released on the album of the same title by The Mike Curb Congregation in 1971 ; prior to that, it was used as the theme for the 1970 WW II comedy movie (at the height of the Vietnam War, such a movie shows how much Hollywood can take things seriously when need be?), "Kelly's Heroes", starring C. Eastwood and D. Sutherland, among others. At first, the song seems to be totally out of place according to some reviewers. In fact, it does fit in perfectly, as it evokes Victory Songs that were sung in pubs and taverns in the UK, Canada and Australia, when people back home heard news about Allied victories and, eventually, the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945. Or some others view it as if a former soldier was reminiscing about the (allegedly) good old days of the war and, thus, ironically looping the loop with the message within "We Forgotten Who We Are".

So, is it Post Rock, or Psychedelic/Space Rock ? I guess it's both, but I wouldn't argue about the matter so much because I don't care much for labels : I listen to music because I like it, not because it allegedly belongs to this or that sub-genre. That said, my feeling is that CBP are not so easily pigeonholed under any too definite label. They wear their Pink Floyd influences on their sleeves, but they also show a taste for folk. They can be quite electric, all the while sharing the stage with cello, viola, violin, mandolin and trombone. But it's not so much a matter of mixing instruments from different eras, but what CBP do with them : it's versatile and grand, melodic and spacey with lyrics that make sense. In my book, that's more than enough to thank them warmly for what they did in "I, Vigilante".

4 red poppies

Report this review (#1395753)
Posted Wednesday, April 8, 2015 | Review Permalink

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