Crippled Black Phoenix A Love Of Shared Disasters on 180g 2LP
Featuring no fewer than thirteen members (including former Electric Wizard sticksman, Justin Greaves and Mogwai bassist, Dominic Aitchison) 2006's A Love of Shared Disasters is the first part of a trilogy of albums from the mysterious collective Crippled Black Phoenix. Comprised of twelve tales of "love and redemption," this album is a masterpiece full of slow-burning epic's and dark Americana. Greaves is the driving force and chief songwriter and has concocted an absorbing body of work. Originally released on the Portishead-owned Invada Records, Crippled Black Phoenix blend Victorian instruments such as cellos, 18th Century harmoniums and saws with vintage and contemporary gear.
The contrasts on A Love of Shared Disasters are staggering, from the artwork right through to the actual compositions. Tracks on this album veer from doom-laden soundscapes to polished classic rock, a style the band have labelled "Endtime Ballads." Even in the album's title, the words 'love' and 'disasters' sit ominously close to one another. "Goodnight Europe" is a tranquil and atmospheric slab of classic rock. Think the enigmatic qualities of Tool, but featuring duel vocalists. Andy Semmens of Pantheist provides "backing moans" that perfectly contrast folk singer Joe Volk's hypnotic vocals. As the track builds purposefully, the backing band lead us into an incredible section of shredding guitar solos and apocalyptic instrumentation.
"The Northern Cobbler," meanwhile, tells the story of an 18th Century cobbler struggling to cope with the demands of married life and a newborn child. Turning to alcohol, the cobbler soon starts beating his wife to the point where he becomes completely ashamed of himself and leaves home. On his journey, he manages to find redemption (a central theme to this album) and turns his life around. One of the most interesting pieces on this album, the band actually incorporate a narrative written by 18th Century poet Alfred Tennyson, complete with authentic Lincolnshire dialect. It's all soundtracked by wonderful melancholic instrumentation that blossoms into a full Godspeed You Black Emperor swoon.
"Long Cold Summer," on the other hand, represents the dark side of CBP. Drawing on the captivating Gregorin style chanting of vocalist Semmens for inspiration, his booming vocals sound like a heartfelt tribute to the Nordic God Thor. A grandiose arrangement, like a slow-motion version of a Spaghetti Western soundtrack or a funeral march for lost souls, "Long Cold Summer" is thunderously stunning.
But CBP know when to let loose and can rock out with the best of them, as "Sharks and Storms/Blizzard of Horned Cats" will atest. Following a more conventional formula, CBP lead us through a sombre mix of Joe Volk's gravel-tone vocals, acoustic guitar picking and soft percussion. As with most tracks on this album, however, you know something special is on the horizon. The band doesn't disappoint and explodes into a furious segment where every member seems to have a part to play. Guitars, trumpet, cellos, organ and those booming Nordic chants all combine to jaw-dropping effect. A tremendous end to a tremendous album, and this is only the beginning of the story.