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Crippled Black Phoenix: Live Poznan

Album Review

Brit prog underdogs conquer the Poles.

As they approach the end of their first decade, Crippled Black Phoenix remain accidentally estranged from the mainstream progressive rock world. Their situation seems increasingly peculiar, given the British ensemble’s undeniable kinship with some of the genre’s greatest protagonists. Live Poznan reflects their large debt to Pink Floyd, both in terms of musical specifics and the intense emotional exasperation bubbling and hissing within their fluid conceptual core.

This alone marks these songs out as something that should have endeared the band to a much larger audience a long time ago, yet there is something beguiling about the way CBP seem to exist in isolation: perpetual outsiders looking in, underdogs to the bone, but never quite distant enough to alienate. 

Perhaps this is why the band have forged such a strong relationship with fans in Poland, where a strong prog scene has evolved over several decades, seemingly in spite of geographical and political barriers. It is certainly apparent that Justin Greaves and his stoic henchmen feel very much at home in Poznan, and thanks to a combination of raw but rounded audio thrust and performances that crackle with steely-eyed insistence, everything from towering opener Troublemaker through to the grandiose denouement of Born For Nothing/Paranoid Arm Of Narcoleptic Empire is cheered to the rooftops by a happily partisan crowd. 

In fact, Live Poznan brilliantly encapsulates the essence of a great live record. Here the band are captured in full flight, surfing on a wave of acclaim and subsequent confidence that followed the release of 2011’s Mankind (The Crafty Ape) and its marginally superior predecessor, 2010’s I Vigilante. Exhibiting a fearless desire to drive blind into foreboding new territories, tracks like Song For The Loved and 444 become even more powerful and affecting in a live context, their creators’ collective mastery of atmosphere, their ragged but strident textural gait and unfussy but incisive melodic drive combining to generate billowing clouds of warmth and world-weary pathos. 

Significantly, the band’s cover of pre-Perry Journey’s Of A Lifetime nestles snugly into the album’s first half, its simple structure and lovelorn drift an exquisitely pitched addition to a sprawling set of songs all seemingly hewn from the same tearstained stone. Even at their most boisterous, on the rambunctious Bella Ciao and snotty Release The Clowns, Crippled Black Phoenix ooze humanity and heart. 

Most importantly, Live Poznan provides compelling evidence that they’re one of the most thrilling live bands modern progressive rock has to offer.

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