“Winning a Losing Battle” is taken from the upcoming Crippled Black Phoenix release, Bronze, out November 4 via Season of Mist. The nine-minute track reaches far and wide as it takes listeners from the vintage progressive rock era of Pink Floyd and Robert Wyatt to the contemporary sounds of post-rock. Along the way there are brief pauses for passages that call to mind film scores and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
The group avoids overstuffed production, allowing the compositions to evolve naturally and take the listener on a dynamic voyage. Haunting, arpeggiated guitar figures give way to booming, cinematic style drums before the listener is led down a dark, horror-inspired path that leads us not back to the light but to something somber and emotionally complex that cannot quite be named.
A lesser song or a lesser act would strive for an obvious resolution, the illusion of victory or the reclaiming of calm. But Crippled Black Phoenix never takes us to those obvious places and, despite an appreciation of the familiar, consistently strives to immerse us in the experience of the alien.
We recently spoke with multi-instrumentalist Justin Greaves about the creation of the song and some of the other key tracks on Bronze. The record, out November 4, can be preordered here.
“Winning a Losing Battle” is a wonderfully dynamic tune. There’s the quiet introduction, followed by the big, loud percussion, then on to other territories. What do you remember about the composition of the track?
Not a lot, probably because I tend to not over-think any music I write. I honestly try to let the song lead me, to pull me a lot and dictate where it wants to go. This was definitely an example of that.
I’m really enamored of the drums on this track, the way they really drive the tune during the louder passages. There’s also a kind of sensitivity to the melodic elements of the tune, the way a jazz drummer responds to the other instruments and the twists and turns in a piece. They’re also not stuffed into every nook of the tune—instruments share the space and lay out at times.
Well, thanks for saying that. Y’know, I am a drummer first, even though I play guitar a lot more now, on stage etc… But I still record the drums on albums, so hearing you talk about drum dynamics and the little details I love to play that no one ever notices, is really rewarding. I think if a drummer plays simply for the song, then it works better.
I have never liked drummers who go over the top with technical show-off skills. I tend to like the ones who do less but play something different. When you don’t notice the drums so much, then that to me shows a great drummer. It’s just a case of listening to everything else in the song, not just yourself, go with the feel of the song and not try to think too much. Most of the time “less-is-more” is true.
There’s that soundscape-y part or cinematic part that happens at about 3:30.
There’s a breakdown after the first part of the song. It needed to stop and go somewhere else because the first half of the song is kind grand sounding. I was hearing a desolate wasteland kind of thing to give the ear something else to focus on before the big scary ending. Then, while we were tracking the violin on other songs, I asked Chrissie [Caulfield] to try the pitch shift effect again (we did it before on White Light Generator), and she had some new effect pedals, so we messed with them and got the violin sounding like War of the Worlds! It totally worked!
Cinematic might be a good word for that tune as a whole as there’s an awareness of dramatic tension in the production as well.
I just wanted to capture the natural sound of the instruments and keep it raw and lively. I don’t think we achieved it on most of the albums before, but this time, we got it right I think. A lot of that is to do with the fact, this time, I worked with Karl Daniel Liden on the mix. He knows what CBP is about and we’re totally on the same page. Plus, he has skills.
In fact, I love the way the album begins with “Dead Imperial Bastard.” It’s very much not an expected way to open an album.
I knew I wanted to have a long “intro” to the album. I like it when the listener is forced to sit and wait through a [piece like that] before getting into the heavy stuff. But I actually wrote that piece of music for a documentary, Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD. I did the soundtrack. I wanted to re-record it because I really liked the tune and it gives the album that dystopian feel I wanted.
Then we get into the heavier stuff via “Deviant Burials” but even that track doesn’t come in on 10.
It’s all part of the big picture, the plan of the album.
“Champions of Disturbance” (both parts) has that kind of Alan Parsons/Floyd-y bit at the beginning.
There’s always parts of CBP albums or songs that unintentionally pay homage to influences from throughout my entire life. It’s just a case of not shying away from a good idea because of fear of it reminding someone of something else.
I also really dig the frenzied keyboard stuff that happens in there.
The crazy keyboard stuff is Mark [Furnevall] going nuts! I love what he does, he has some insane fingers!
There’s a lot for listeners to take in on this record, a full-on listening experience.
It demands repeated listens, not everyone will get it at first, it tells stories and makes statements both hidden and blatantly obvious. It sounds like we should and it makes no apologies. There’s no hurry to impress everyone or to crush people. So for the patient listener, there’s a whole bunch of rewarding cool stuff on there.
You’ve been with this record at every stage of its development. What was it like when you heard the whole thing from front to back, completed, the first time?
Like finding your newborn child in the middle of a motorway.
1. Dead Imperial Bastard
2. Deviant Burials
3. No Fun
4. Rotten Memories
5. Champions of Disturbance (Pt 1 & 2)
6. Goodbye Then
7. Turn to Stone
8. Scared and Alone
9. Winning a Losing Battle
10. We Are the Darkeners