For most people, any knowledge of CKY begins at recognising the riff of 96 Quite Bitter Beings and ends with the fact that drummer Jess is the brother of Bam Margera. Dig a bit deeper and the now cult classic status of their 2002 album Infiltrate•Destroy•Rebuild becomes evident, but from a purely outside perspective, this is a band whose entire musical legacy can be boiled down to one riff and that’s it. To be honest, it’s not really that surprising that CKY haven’t garnered as much attention as they perhaps should have, given a recent history that includes a nine year gap since their last album, the departure of former frontman Deron Miller in 2015 on not entirely good terms, and the simple fact that experimental alt-metal has as little viability in terms of widespread traction as it’s always had.
As such, it’s clear that The Phoenix is positioned as CKY’s big revival, now continuing as a trio with guitarist Chad I Ginsburg moving to frontman duties, and on a fundamental level, they’ve managed to bounce back to some degree. It’s particularly true in the guitars, mostly resting on thick, swaggering riffs on Replaceable and Wiping Off The Dead (as well as some predictably fantastic soloing from Mastodon’s Brent Hinds on the back end of Days Of Self Destruction), or backed by stomping basslines as on The Other Ones. Ginsburg as a vocalist also manages to hold his own too, with his grizzled, sunburnt sneer not having much subtlety or great range, but capturing the drive and power needed that meshes almost perfectly with this gruff alt-metal sound.
But that’s a fundamental level, and put into context with the album in its entirety, The Phoenix is bogged down with multiple substantial issues. The biggest is without question the production, which suitably sounds imported directly from the early 2000s. Considering how much meat and gristle are naturally on the guitars here, there’s rarely an opportunity for them to really embrace that, instead drenched in a horrid muddy mix that does no favours to anyone. The majority of the disco stomp of Unknown Enemy is tossed aside by production that sounds painfully dated, while Wiping Off The Dead and Better Than Got Ever completely kneecap the effect of Ginsburg’s vocals, the former pushing them right back into the mix to the point where they’re almost unintelligible at points, and the latter drowning them in watery effects that make him sound like he’s singing through a tube. That’s not even bringing up the extraneous sounds and effects that are so dated and cheap, like the laser effects on The Other Ones that are obnoxiously high in the mix or the oily, chintzy organ on Days Of Self Destruction.
It’s the sort of thing that has mirrored past critiques that CKY can lack progression and invention, and the constantly flavour-bereft production doesn’t exactly provide a convincing counter-argument. The songwriting doesn’t exactly help either, and while it’s not as stagnant as some other bands have a tendency to be, there’s definitely a case of recycling content here. Even for the fruitful well of putting their former frontman on blast, there’s so little variation between how it’s done; there’s at least some rawness and cocksure swagger to Replaceable that carries the initial solid theme, but when it’s repeated through every other instance, there’s nothing to get excited about, especially when it takes up four tracks of an eight track album.
It’s tedious and repetitive, without even some musical colour or flavour to make it salvageable. As much as CKY’s effort at a long-delayed comeback is valiant and bears some instrumental technicality that is impressive, it masks that in a haze of dated, messy production, inapposite instrumental effects and repetitive lyrics that grow tiresome in a hurry. As much as the effort can be commended, the execution is utterly botched, and in a way that would be so easy to rectify.
For fans of: Clutch, Turbonegro, Gnarkill
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Phoenix’ by CKY is released on 16th June on Longbranch / SPV.