If you are looking for a review that will finally tell you what kind of music CBP exactly make, or if you are hoping to learn in what degree and how precisely they resemble Pink Floyd, then I will have to disappoint you, because I won’t be writing about that. The band has made it repeatedly clear that they don’t consider themselves belonging to any box, so why dwell on that?
What I’ll be concentrating on instead is where the music is coming from, what the motivation behind it is and how it manifests. The correlation between input (life, the world) and output (the music) is what I find most interesting, because, although I’m no musician, I am a human being, living in this time and age, and on that level, I will probably be able to relate. And so will you.
Crippled Black Phoenix’s new album Great Escape opens with spherical sounds that accompany excerpts from a speech by Alan Watts, the man that played a significant role in bringing eastern philosophy, specifically Buddhism, to the West. The speech is intercut by other conversation I can’t identify. The subject of the excerpts is the health of a society measured against its ability to accept and integrate people who don’t want to live like the majority. The spherical tones establish a connection to the universe and elevate the speech’s content: what is said is considered to be fundamentally true. Everything that follows on the album, musically and lyrically, is related to this topic.
Great Escape portrays aspects of the struggle of living in a society that expects you to keep on a pre-programmed path (when you have decided to go against the stream), and that values the individual according to its adherence to the program. The lyrics deal with efforts to conquer fear, the threat of madness, breakdown and attempts to escape the suffering of depression. The album shows the effects our unhealthy society has on a human being, but it doesn’t stop there. The track Nebulas is solely dedicated to the misery of animals. “To the animals all people are Nazis, and life is an eternal Treblinka,” Isaac Bashevis Singer is quoted in the beginning of the track.
The struggle and the suffering, and all the complex emotions included in it, like anxiety, anger, desperation, unbearable sadness, the inertia of depression, the busyness of trying to gain some ground, all are audible in the music. Even the silences speak volumes. The lyrics and the vocals, most of the time clear and calm, set a context for the music. It’s the music that chiefly displays all the sentiments involved. I like that a lot.
I think it goes almost without saying that musical mastery is a prerequisite for transmitting what I have just described. But how does it look and sound, specifically? I’ll give you a few examples:
The track Madman deals with the looming threat of madness. The music that accompanies the lyrics has an industrial, electrical sound, strange and dangerous, charged. It is very different from the rest of the material on the album. The vocals are tense and full of barely suppressed aggression. Throughout most of the track, the drumming is basic, simple and repetitive. This person isn’t in their most advanced thinking mode, you see. The whole song is saying “Watch out, or else.”
The instrumental Slow Motion Breakdown starts out with a church bell striking (the bell has tolled for someone), followed by a ticking sound that continues underneath the music. Countdown. The music intensifies, becomes a wall of sound, but the wall of sound does not end in a spectacular finale. It just stops and turns into weird, out of tune accordion noises that get ever more distorted and in the end sound like wailing. Breakdown sure isn’t pretty.
My favourite track so far is Times, They Are A Raging. I say so far, because I’m not done listening yet. And if you want to do the album justice, you should also be prepared to invest some time. Times, They Are A Raging is an excellent example for what I have come to view as CBP’s specialty: beautiful, complex soundscapes and song structures. Soundscapes that tell stories. The track starts out inert, slow, and dragging. The guitar, the drums, the piano, everything seems to have a problem to get going. Then the vocals set in and put an end to the painful inertia. Somewhere in the middle of the 12-minute track, a change in mood and tempo occurs. The drumming gets faster. Suspense music. After that, guitar, drums, vocals, everything intensifies to a maximum, then breaks off suddenly into an electrically charged silence, and then starts again. The music is pushing forward, but is never completely harmonious, that is, the harmonies don’t last long. The track ends without the drums and the vocals, only guitar, piano and the singing saw. The last thing to be heard is the singing saw, sounding like the call of an owl, an omen of death.
The album’s climax is probably the track Great Escape (pt I). I have listened to it many times and watched the video, and I’ve decided that I don’t want to write too much about it. Listen and see for yourself. There’s always the danger of banalizing something by commenting on it. I can tell you this much: It’s profoundly honest. The whole album is. You have to respect that, because even in this scene, a lot of people and bands are putting on an act. No act here.
The next and final track is Great Escape (pt II). It starts out slightly optimistic, proactive, going forward, alive. The drums are steady. The vocals are a bit more animated. This is the track that reminds me the most of Pink Floyd, especially the guitar. However, the positive atmosphere doesn’t last. The mood turns again. The track ends on a melancholy note, but that was to be expected. Once you’ve gone through depression, you’ll never be a happy-go-lucky person again.
Having listened to the album and occupied myself with its content for quite some time, my conclusion would be that music is the best and greatest way to escape these dire conditions. Suicide has the downside of you ending up dead. Drugs (the serious kind, not the relaxants) will increase your suffering in the long run. Reality has a tremendous advantage over utopia: it’s real (as Brad Warner, bassist of Zero Defex and Zen priest, puts it in his book Hardcore Zen). For musicians, music is probably the way to channel their sorrow. For painters, painting. For writers, writing. For film makers, film making. Immersing yourself in these works of art provides you with an escape as well, although on a path someone else has carved.
You won’t regret immersing yourself in this.