The ever evolving Crippled Black Phoenix, helmed by multi-instrumentalist and former Iron Monkey and Electric Wizard drummer Justin Greaves, return with their first full length album on new label Season of Mist.
The previous ‘New Dark Age’ EP was full of overt Pink Floyd influences, but in keeping with Crippled Black Phoenix’s prior track record of never sitting still musically, those influences have been dialled well back (although not completely) on ‘Bronze’. What we have instead is a big, weighty album, both musically and lyrically. Guitars are very much to the fore, complemented by keyboards which add to what is overall a pretty dark and intense atmosphere. As usual, the lyrics are both thoughtful and thought-provoking, addressing the battle with inner demons amid (and probably exacerbated by) a society still rife with injustice and intolerance.
The highlights are many and varied. Opening track Dead Imperial Bastard is, despite its title, a sedate but trippy instrumental that gives way to the relentless, driving heavy rock of Defiant Burials. The bombastic Champions of Disturbance comes across like some sort of Muse-Tool hybrid, while the band channel their own inner-Zeppelin with an inspired and epic run-through of the old Joe Walsh song Turn to Stone, which features guest vocalist Arvid Jonsson from Greenleaf and ends with a blazing, extended guitar solo. By contrast Scared and Alone is a gorgeous, dark lament.
Despite the ebbing and flowing of tempo and mood, the whole album hangs together seamlessly such that there are no flat spots throughout the album’s hour-plus length. In short, this is a cracking and expertly crafted album. If you are sick of waiting for a new Porcupine Tree album then I highly recommend giving ‘Bronze’, or any of Crippled Black Phoenix’s back catalogue for that matter, a serious listen.
Such a profound and weighty album of course warrants a profound and weighty beer, and in my view sipping your way through one or two Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ales is the perfect accompaniment to heighten your appreciation. Plus it is actually bronze in colour.
Coopers released their first Vintage Ale back in 1998 and a new vintage has been released pretty much every year since. In fact you could argue that Coopers Vintage Ale has helped pave the way locally for the craft beer revolution that we are now enjoying. Vintage Ale is also notable because it is brewed to not only be enjoyed immediately but also to be cellared to allow the flavours to evolve over time. (Around 18 months seems to be the general recommended maximum period but I have been lucky enough to taste some much older vintages that have been cellared properly and which have matured to have an almost liqueur-like quality)
The brewers tweak the recipe each year so that each vintage is subtly different from the last. The 2016 Vintage has the usual strong malt backbone, offset by slightly higher levels of hop bitterness than previous vintages, and which I’m guessing will likely fade over time to allow the full stone fruit, caramel and burnt toffee flavours to come fully to the fore. With subtle aromas and rich, complex and layered flavours this is and will continue to be a beer to savour, much like ‘Bronze’.