In Praise of “Ellengæst” by Crippled Black Phoenix (#7 in 2020’s Top Ten)

Ellengæst, from UK revolving-door post-rock project Crippled Black Phoenix, is an album that, on paper, ought to be an absolute mess. A thorough treatment on depression and optimism featuring a roster of musicians from the more extreme ends of metal who play and sing everything *but* extreme metal is a tall order to fill, but Ellengæst pulls it off with flying colors, offering one of the broadest musical experiences one could have this year.

Due to the album’s extensive cast of songwriters, vocalists, and influences, it is not possible to give the musical breadth of Ellengæst justice in such short space. The one constant is full-time member Belinda Kordic, who takes point on vocals for roughly half the album and provides a gorgeous contrast to the guest list of black/doom metal singers. Her first full song, “Lost”, feels like a dark-mirror version of a The Valley-era Eisley, and her cover of Vic Chesnutt’s “Everything I Say” starts as a strong dark Americana offering, morphs into a massive post-rock wave of layered guitars, and rests at a haunting fusion of both genres. This is how most of Ellengæst operates – from album opener “House of Fools”, lead single “Cry of Love”, and the massive and glorious climax track “The Invisible Past”, there is no point where Crippled Black Phoenix is playing one isolated genre of music – it is always a thoughtful and unique mixture of genres that normally have nothing to do with each other. Special attention must be given to “The Invisible Past”, a song that accomplished the rare feat of bringing me to tears with it’s triumphal melancholy and huge, heavy, and weighty second movement.

Had the album ended on “The Invisible Past”, it would likely have landed higher on this list, but unfortunately the album stumbles at the end with a cover of Bauhaus’ “She’s in Parties”. The cover itself is quite good, but after the heaviness (metaphorical and literal) of “The Invisible Past” it makes for a strange note to close the album on. This minor misstep aside, Ellengæst is a refreshingly diverse release, one that will unite fans of Americana, folk, alt-rock, post-rock, doom metal, and more. There is something here for everyone.

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