Johnny the Boy – You Review

For the most part, Crippled Black Phoenix is a band defined by near misses, sprawling records hiding stellar gems (like “Deviant Burials” on 2016’s Bronze) among the bloat, although I, Vigilante is on another plane entirely1 The same cannot be said of last year’s mammoth Banefyre. However, tucked away at the end of that record (for anyone who made it to that point, over an hour and a half in), was a bonus track called “No Regrets.” Completely different from the meandering post-rock that defined the rest of Banefyre (and indeed much of CBP’s extensive back catalog), “No Regrets” was stripped back, crusty sludge fare, with harsh, howling vocals from singer Belinda Kordic. And, to quote a footnote in our performing Dolphin‘s Banefyre review, it “rips in a way the rest of the album doesn’t.” That track was an early teaser for what became Johnny the Boy, a side project by CBP songwriter Justin Greaves, live bassist Matt Crawford and Kordic. But does it also rip?

If you didn’t know there was some link between CBP and Johnny the Boy, you would be hard-pressed to divine it by listening to You alone. Maybe there’s something in the melodies and guitar tone on “He Moves,” although probably the closest you’d get is closer “Without You” (a semi-ballad about a pet feline called Tigger), which has a contemplative, post-metal edge to its sound, overlaid with a croaking, razor-edged croon to the vocals. This is an outlier for You, however, as most of the album is punk-adjacent, blackened sludge, with a progressive underbelly. Greaves’ guitars are buried in feedback and fuzz, which nod to his time in Electric Wizard and Iron Monkey, while Crawford’s bass (described, more or less accurately, in the promo notes as a “bass avalanche”) is almost percussive in its slapping groove. Over the top, Kordic’s tortured, blackened rasps2 are so full of venom and spite that they give the whole record a nasty, bilious intensity that I really dig.

From the mournful, down-tempo, doom-end-of-the-sludge-spectrum melodies woven into “He Moves,” which also sees Kordic break into ethereal clean chants (see also “Crossings”), to the raucous crustiness of opener “Die Already” and “Druh” (both political in their themes, the former an anti-dictator rant, the latter an ode to WWII Polish resistance fighter Witold Pilecki, who infiltrated Auschwitz), Johnny the Boy is never content to do one thing. The drums (I refuse to call them “drumbs” as the promo blurb does) are handled by “Guiterrorist” Greaves also and vary from d-beat boisterousness (“Wired”) to an insistent, post-metal backbone (“Crossings”) and on into a more delicate, progressive space (“Without You”). At its best, like on the one-two of the jarring “Grime” and “He Moves,” You is a very strong album, showcasing a form of blackened, post-sludge that may even win over one or two sludge-naysayers with its progressive viciousness.

I mean, probably not but you never know. Clocking in at just a shade over 40 minutes, You is a tight, well-written record that moves along at a real clip and never outstays its welcome. Coherent in the sense that it establishes an identifiable character for Johnny the Boy (a terrible name, by the by) but without repeating its tricks, the album has a genuine progression and journey across its run. Perhaps lacking in truly standout moments (although “He Moves” and “Without You” are both great), there are very few things to criticize here. One thing I will—heavily—criticize is the, admittedly limited, use of spoken word passages, like those that both kick-off and end album opener “Die Already.” These are frankly just confusing, out of character, and have no place on the album.

Drenched in feedback and reverb, with nuggety moments and a deft and measured use of samples scattered across it, You sounds great, as do most albums mastered by Cult of Luna’s Magnus Lindberg. Of “No Regrets,”,secreted away at the end of CBP’s Banefyre, Greaves said it played a dual role, first as “something pretty outlandish at the end of a CBP album, to give everyone a kick in the bollocks, but it was also our way of saying, ‘We do this other thing, by the way!’” And, quite frankly, Johnny the Boy is currently a lot fresher and more interesting than its members’ day job.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: June 9th, 2023

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