‘Craft’ is one of my favourite words in the dictionary (my most favourite being ’clavicle’, it has such sweet phonetics). It denotes as skilfully producing something by hand, and it is this ‘by hand’ bit which I wholly endorse. ‘By hand’ leads to something unique, something which has been imbued with its creator’s personality and skill. However, ‘Craft’ can also mean deviousness and trickery in an archaic form, and I believe it is this denotation Crippled Black Phoenix had in mind with the name of their latest record, especially when they still consider us all as those primordial apes.
On paper, and by right, Crippled Black Phoenix should be a crushing doom super group, ex-Electric Wizard, ex-Iron Monkey, ex-Gonga and ex-Teeth of Lions Rule The Divine members; you wouldn’t have expected then that they undertake an expansive Pink Floydian approach to progressive rock. Yet, within the lush psychedelic soundscapes and handsome guitars and thumping rhythms they have that element of deviousness, that feeling of a pretty mask hiding the ugliness beneath, which lends a cliff-edge to this warm flowery meadow.
The comic-esque record artwork is interesting to interpret. The wolf face echoes the same one that appeared on 2010’s I, Vigilante and is now attached to a human body, and though it is snarling and looking fierce it’s running away. In fear, perhaps. Maybe there’s something worse than a wolf-headed man, something scarier?
I keep returning to Crippled Black Phoenix as, beside Colour Haze, I believe they are the classiest band operating today. Their I, Vigilante record was stunning, it was a descent, that weary journey from the zenith, and it reminded me of coming home from a long walk. No fanfare or crescendo, no blaze of fire but embers that smouldered in the dark and cast red across the floor.
I have found The Crafty Ape to have a much fuller and rounder sound than I, Vigilante, which was a more straightforward guitar record, now there are horns, organs, strings, choirs in places, female vocals stand out a bit more and the piano is beautifully played. It is this melding of orchestral sounds into a strong, cohesive stream or soundscape that, with recent forecasts in mind, makes me think of the weather and it’s forgotten splendour. All the elements have to be perfect, the temperature, wind, pressure, humidity, cloud cover, geography and only when they are all perfect does this pure, unique, white snow fall with it’s perennial aching beauty. Yet, of course, some sit in awe of the snow’s majesty whereas others stare in tragedy and it is this bi-polar beauty of snow that encapsulates The Crafty Ape for me. It is beautiful and psychedelic but also mournful and dark.
It isn’t all frosty, as there are sunbursts seen at the powerful end of ‘A Letter Concerning Dogheads’ and the visceral rhythm of ’Laying Traps’, but the British-instilled misanthropy and famous misery reflects most from this record. I care a great deal for Crippled Black Phoenix, their records are always stirring and The Crafty Ape is a continuation of their triumph.