As red herrings go, the opening track on Crippled Black Phoenix’s latest studio splurge takes some beating. A delicate two-minute acoustic love song, Sweeter Than You may be delivered deadpan, but its warmth and air of dewy-eyed serenity is irresistible. But these eccentric Brits aren't a band prone to such sustained bouts of loveliness, and White Light Generator takes them ever deeper into the realm of world-weary distress and quiet horror that they have expertly nurtured over the last decade or so.
With typical contrariness, the two-part No! swiftly pulls the rug from under our feet, that trademark CBP blend of melancholy and menace fizzing and hissing within the band’s unmistakably organic, spontaneous and darkly melodic framework. When the grinding riff that drives Let’s Have An Apocalypse Now! kicks in, it exudes the same slack-jawed swagger propagated by Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, but with an almost psych-rock underbelly twitching and churning beneath: further proof that although they wear their ingenuity lightly, CBP have a progressive streak a mile wide and are fearless in their pursuit of compositional nirvana.
The thwarted rage that has frequently blazed at the heart of the band’s music is more evident than ever on the impossibly grim and threatening Parasites, a song that owes plenty to Swans’ primal no-wave mantras while still thrumming with idiosyncratic fervour. In contrast, Northern Comfort begins with barrelling, propulsive energy, before descending into a twinkling haze of plaintive piano, as gently heartbreaking lines like ‘Always leaving a light on/Waiting for me to come back home…’ brilliantly evoke the muted misery of small lives lived just beyond the peripheral vision of an indifferent world.
Superficially, Crippled Black Phoenix occupy similar musical ground to fellow countrymen Anathema, but while the Liverpudlians’ melancholy is tempered by misty-eyed optimism and a sense that the human spirit will always prevail in the end, songs like Caring Breeds The Horror and the chilling You’ll Be Murdered offer no such hope or respite from the creeping shadow of oblivion.
Even when channelling their unashamed Floyd obsession, as on No! Part 2 and the wonderfully languorous We Remember You, White Light Generator paints the Phoenix crew as dogged pessimists, desperately trying to claw some relief from the healing power of music.
The realisation that escape from mortality’s downward crawl is little more than a transient fantasy makes these subtly grandiose missives all the more affecting. Only the closing track, A Brighter Tomorrow, offers any comfort, but who needs hope when despair sounds this beautiful?