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Crippled Black Phoenix: (Mankind) The Crafty Ape

Album Review

Post-rock supergroup’s sprawling, ambitious concept album has moments of magic.

A robotic voice intones: “Use your anger to totally destroy your oppressors!” as doomy, In The Flesh power-chords descend, and the fifth album from post-rock ‘supergroup’ Crippled Black Phoenix immediately lays out its bold modus operandi.

There will be church bells, recorded from a distance, through mist. There will be pomp, ridiculousness and everything you’d expect from a two-disc concept album about the degradation of humanity in three ‘chapters’ from a band including members of such modern prog-rock luminaries as Mogwai, Gonga, Iron Monkey and Electric Wizard, and songs called Release The Clowns, Faced With Complete Failure, Utter Defiance Is The Only Response and (What?)

What you wouldn’t expect is so many thrills. (Mankind) The Crafty Ape is an ambitious, 90-minute opus of Tool-level scope and theme – with many lengthy, blues metal guitar solos – but when it finds focus it delivers moments of metallic black magic. T_he Heart Of Every Country_ revisits Shine On You Crazy Diamond with Fleet Foxes on melody and Godspeed You! Black Emperor on mood. Get Down And Live With It drives a howl against authoritarian brutality with propulsive African beats and lilting Beirut strings. In the chord cataclysms of A Letter Concerning Dogheads, Maynard Kames Keenan fights Kyuss to the death. 

The chapters are necessary to negotiate the beast. Chapter I (A Thread) bemoans the slavery and oppression of Western civilisation. Chapter II (The Trap) turns pop with a crunch, rolling up rebellion with its irrepressible horns and Thin Lizzy riffs, its filthy garage swaggers and Florence Welsh-a-like anti-politician diatribes, and its incongruous Parisian polka. 

Chapter III (The Blues Of Man) tackles war – as we so wish more metal bands would – but with a rare note of honour and heroism: from the lush, Black Mountain organs of Operation Mincemeat the album grows in grace until Faced With provides an uplifting close, a Muse-like, 12-minute odyssey worthy of wearing the goblin horns of 1974 with pride. 

(Mankind) The Crafty Ape is an album attempting to crystallise the tragi-comic dread and defiance of being human in 2011. And, as much as a faintly silly two-CD, post-prog rock album inciting us to kill David Cameron can, it almost succeeds. 

Now, we’re all off to totally destroy our oppressors. Coming?

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