The thread that binds Crippled Black Phoenix’s bold and towering discography — a dozen studio albums, a half-dozen mini-albums, a handful of compilations and swathes of bootlegs — could not be more apropos circa 2022. Since its 2004 creation by multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Justin Greaves, CBP has served as the voice for the voiceless, whether it be animals, the unequal or the different. Greaves and longstanding vocalist and lyricist Belinda Kordic have often proffered that these beings cannot fend for themselves. Henceforth, the band’s mission has been to shed light on the human condition and the inequalities that befall humankind and its creatures. Their battle marches on with their latest studio album, Banefyre.
Banefyre follows 2020’s Ellengæst — an effort that found Crippled Black Phoenix employ a series of notable guest vocalists alongside Kordic, prompting Metal Hammer to describe it as their “most cohesive and emotionally devastating record.” Kordic is now paired with Swedish vocalist Joel Segerstedt, who made his Crippled Black Phoenix debut last year via the Painful Reminder/Dead is Dead single. Piano, synth and trumpet player Helen Stanley and additional guitarist Andy Taylor complete the lineup. Greaves says Stanley and Taylor “fit so well creatively,” which has made the band feel like a band when making plans and decisions.
Also central to this is Segerstedt. According to Kordic, the vocalist and lyricist lives a mere five minutes from her in Sweden and has quickly integrated himself into the band. “What I like about Joel is that he’s a good person,” she says. “There’s no fakeness with him; he has cajones. He’s not a bitch-talker, either. I can’t handle people who don’t have a backbone, but Joel is real and can speak his mind.”
“I like how Joel has come in and spoke for himself,” adds Greaves. “He’s in the band for the right reasons. I see him the same way as Belinda — she took an interest in the whole artistic thing behind Crippled Black Phoenix, like the vocals, lyrics, artwork and aesthetic. It’s the same with Joel. He has taken an interest in all of those things. In the past, we had people who didn’t contribute artistically and only cared about what they got out of the band. But Joel is really proactive and takes the initiative.”
Greaves assembled thirteen songs (including No Regrets, a bonus track for his new project with Kordic, Johnny the Boy) imbued with the depth and introspection that will reinforce Crippled Black Phoenix’s standing as a band that defies genre. The album was tracked at Chapel Studios in South Thoresby, Lincolnshire, with vocals cut at Monolith Studio and Kapsylen Studio in Stockholm, Sweden. Kurt Ballou handled mixing in GodCity Studios in Salem, Massachusetts — a pivotal move in determining the album’s overall sound.
“I love the album so much because it was a different approach with the production,” says Greaves. “For my part, it was a little bit of a reaction. I didn’t want to do the same warm, safe Crippled Black Phoenix album. I’m aware that when we did [2012’s] I, Vigilante, everyone wanted I, Vigilante again. As it so often happens with this band, people complain about the next one, then grow into it. Ellengæst is like I, Vigilante. It’s a shorter album. It hit the mark and was done really well, but everyone will expect another Ellengæst. I feared that, but I care enough not to make another Ellengæst. It’s the right thing to do. That’s why we got Kurt to mix it — we wanted that analog, raw power. Even though the album has mellow moments, those are edgy as well. We just didn’t want to do the same album twice. We’re never going to be a band that people can rely on.”
Greaves’ summation of his band notwithstanding, his distinctive guitar playing and enduring knack for immersive songwriting is the propellent behind the haunting, chant-laden Ghostland, pensive The Reckoning and forlorn Everything is Beautiful but Us, the band’s spot-on analysis of the retreat of humankind indoors during the pandemic that revealed nature’s priceless beauty. The album is also stocked with no less than four ten-minute-plus cuts (Rose of Jericho, Down the Rabbit Hole, I’m Okay, Just Not Alright and The Scene is a False Prophet) that are intermixed with drama and melancholy.
It all ties into Banefyre’s central theme of the persecution of people who are deemed “different” by society. The album title is a play on the song Bonefire that Kordic named and wrote lyrics for. In classic Crippled Black Phoenix fashion, Greaves turned it into the Olde English translation to represent the bonfires that engulfed witches and politicians through the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, hence, the name Banefyre.
The album begins with Incantation for the Different, which was written and orated by Chicago-based witch, artist, author and occultist Shane Bugbee, who, according to Greaves, “brought us some positive, dark energy.” Banefyre then delves into the Salem Witch Trials (Wyches and Basterdz), fox hunting in Great Britain (The Reckoning), politicians of an unscrupulous and dishonest kind (Bonefire) and the New York City Blackout of 1977 (Blackout77).
Greaves says Banefyre’s topics may have a decidedly negative and pessimistic tone, but a glimmer of hope and joy remains. “There’s always the random bits, but overall, Banefyre is about the people who have suffered because they are different. The album covers inequality and oppression, like Incantation for the Different, which is about overcoming when you’re put down because you’re not like everyone else.”
In true Crippled Black Phoenix fashion, the Lucy Marshall-created Banefyre cover leaves plenty to the imagination, depicting four animals seated at a table — interacting and dressed like human beings. “It’s sort of like Planet of the Apes showing what animals could do to humans,” says Greaves. “The cover was specially commissioned and is unique to the album. It’s incorporating all the classic Crippled Black Phoenix elements with the love for animals and twisting the narrative around.”
The band’s reputation was built on the back of their studio albums and live shows. The pandemic prevented the band from supporting Ellengæst, but it did provide them additional time to bring in new members to their live configuration.
“We’ve done one show since 2019,” says Greaves. “We are going to do something in Europe this year. Hopefully, we can get back on track. We’re also going to do something in the States — that’s not just talk, we’re actually going to do it. It’s well overdue. The live band is fucking amazing. We have the five of us and now we have Jordi [Farré] on drums, Paco [Fleischfresser] on synth and a really good friend of mine, Matt Crawford on bass.
“We did the Leipzig show and even though the rehearsals were better than the show itself, that lineup, our live band, is so good. Because we haven’t been under pressure to put a live band together since 2019 and spent so long talking to people, we’ve got a better band from those results. Out of disaster, we’ve got quite a good, positive thing.”
Banefyre releases on September 9th.