Crippled Black Phoenix - I, Vigilante - 4.5/5
Supergroups. I am not a fan of them, never have been so if you come to me and start drooling about Dan Swano and Mikael Akerfeldt collaborating I might possibly slap you out of annoyance. Perhaps it would be more accurate to comment that I do not get hyped up about “supergroups” performing. Mostly their collaborated efforts are more consistent in hype than substance.
So Crippled Black Phoenix apparently is an exception to my generalization stated above, and a wonderful exception they are. Hailing from UK, consisting of members from bands like Mogwai and Electric Wizard, this bunch proceeds ahead to create a musical project that seems to be equipped with almost every aural emotion known to mankind. Do not expect me to print out a genre for these guys; they simply play a fusion of too many things, with prominent roots in rock and ambient styles. Now I,Vigilante is another addition to a pretty impressive lineup (to my surprise), because I was not expecting this band to have a large discography. “Supergroups” seldom do, but I suppose these guys were actually a lot more serious about combining their musical talents rather than creating hype. And to be entirely frank, I Vigilante backs this up a hundred and ten percent.
To get to the album itself, it is a very transcendental piece of art with chunks and bits of a lot of variance thrown in. If you compare the production in this record with the one in 'A Love of Shared Disasters,' this one has a notably cleaner quality, but note that I say “cleaner” here comparatively, because the atmosphere and the mood of the album is very much like that of a classic 80’s record. That is no criticism though; in fact it proves to be a flourish for the album taking in view the aesthetics the musicians aim to express here. Now to get to the songwriting itself, the band display skills and plenty of them. There are lots of different things on offer here from political/nationalistic criticism to just satiric humor. Sound-wise, the listener is treated to a feast both qualitatively and quantity wise, whether it be the crisp playing of the lead guitar over the thick atmosphere, the sublime passages by the piano and the cellos or just the catchy drumming on display that make you bob your head as you try to sing along to the songs. One of the biggest highlights of the album is how the two guitars differ in their tone yet always complement each other in their sound, one providing the sound as dense smoke while the other seemingly cutting through it like razor wind; being melodically hypnotic but catchy and simple.
Do not let this fool you though, there is enough technical brilliance mixed with catchy songwriting to make the piece intricate but – and that’s a big but – take for example the track 'Bastogne Blues,' which should have your attention and heart clenched with its emotional soldier’s speech intro. The true beauty of this song lies in the band’s versatility to blend all the different instruments being played and weaving it together to architect something seemingly simple. The playing is not something for one to drop their jaw but one to close their eyes get in the mood and listen. On the opposite side of the tempo’s spectrum, the band shows the ability to accelerate when they feel like it. This is also showed in 'Burning Bridges' and in 'Troublemaker' (part of it). The essence of the music is primarily on the fusion and mergence of styles, tastefully going into phases of just hypnotic playing of nothing but the piano and the cello.
So we have “shoegazing” moments, “80’s rock” moments and yes, “Victorian era” bits all thrown in together to create a most lucid but dense aural experience. Let’s also give props to the vocals “Of a lifetime,” which were unquestionably splendidly done by Charlotte, she should sing more to be entirely honest. And whilst we are on the subject of vocals the mention of Mr. Volk must ultimately come in and this is where the only criticism of the album steps. Don’t get me wrong, the man is a good vocalist overall but he really needs to make his vocals more prominent on this record, no scratch that, on this band’s works. This is actually more awkward at times because the talent is apparent but because he is not “loud” enough; his whole vocal performance often sounds like just high slurs and background noise with the instruments. This becomes more of an issue when the members play in unison and he has to sing along in that maze of sounds.
However to sum it all up, that is the only flaw present in this magnificent piece of art. The band really is flexible, diverse and consistent throughout the album, maintaining the listener’s interest in the song with their tasteful use of the instruments and just about bordering it with enough technicalities to express their thoughts in a more unique manner. So yes this is definitely one act to keep the lookout for when they come touring near you, and this is definitely one album you should consider adding to your collection whether you listen to Black, Jazz or some unknown genre of unholy amounts of frostbitten Metal-ness.
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 2 October 2011