Phantom - _Incendiary Serum_
(I, Voidhanger Records, 2013)
by: Chaim Drishner (7.5 out of 10)
The dead have highways...

Phantom, a four-piece black / death / doom combo hailing from Denmark, has somewhat revived what I call 'ghost metal', forging something new, or more advanced and certainly more eclectic aesthetically, almost perfecting this non-genre of metal. In a sense, they belong to a separate and rather unique clique of bands whose main themes are mostly ghost stories, but with an added value; not only do their (rather quality, I might add) lyrics deal strictly with apparitions in every form and shape -- especially evil and vile ones, and their tendency of seeping into the realm of the living -- but somehow these very lyrics are being embodied in the music: cavernous, depraved, suffocating and with a sense of presiding uncleanliness, whenever the other side coincides with the here and the now. Phantom's music actually conveys these rotten, maggot-ridden sentiments with their dramatic, wicked and enigmatic metal, conjuring sentiments and visions that are -- how shall I put is? -- unhealthy, to say the least.

Bands such as Cultus Sanguine, Abysmal Grief, Devil Doll, Opera IX and now the relative newcomers, namely Phantom -- the common denominator of whom being an inherent and strong gothic vibe of the unromantic kind -- have all succeeded in translating harrowing and bleak ghost stories into the language of music, thus opening a door, or at least tearing up a peeping hole in the fabric of reality, enabling us to gaze briefly into another dimension, where everything is nothing and nothing is everything; according to Phantom, these lost souls who trespass into the known Universe hold the powers to make us, humans, do and feel some pretty bad things -- from madness to mass murder. Who knows whether or not Phantom's theories are in line with reality?!

The music is -- as with most of I, Voidhanger's releases -- nothing short of excellent in terms of songwriting abilities, production and highly aesthetic visualization, always with a healthy dose of oddness thrown in. Although nothing on _Incendiary Serum_ is revolutionary per se, the album manages to easily click and register, being quite melodic and catchy. The best parts are the slower ones, where the band goes into a frightening, ominous slow doom / death metal phase and the excellent vocalist is in his most low-pitched growls; in those very moments, the music reminds something that could have been recorded by _Brave Murder Day_ era Katatonia, Mikael Akerfeldt included. But unlike the aforementioned legendary album, Phantom's music is in parts even more depraved and dark; utilizing some simple riffs that are both horror-laden and spiritual in essence, and incorporating some keyboards, piano and cello in minuscule amounts, Phantom do manage to pull the trick of making the listener believe the stories he had just read in the album's booklet, conjuring some of the most frightening moments ever captured on tape.

Drenched in mystery, this album is enigmatic in more than one way; not only does it succeed, as above mentioned, to convey a true sense of uneasiness and filth through its various tools, but at the same time it also offers well thought out, well composed, well balanced metal that flirts with doom, death and black metal; in other words: dark metal. Very, very dark metal, with an added value of rot and suggestive inhuman black energies that lurk in the shadows and even seep into the light. Oh, how arrogant these forces are, and how very addicted they are to the taste of life.

And dark this album is, indeed; however, the only downside I have encountered in this rewarding and well accomplished metal album is its falling into the (inevitable?) 'honey trap' of benign black metal clich├ęs, where the band speed up things and offer rather inoffensive, almost pedestrian black metal paradigms; that's where _Incendiary Serum_ is at its most uninteresting, somewhat ruining the otherwise dank and sombre atmosphere of the viciously captivating slower parts.

Other than that, _Incendiary Serum_ is a wicked, wicked album full to the brim with deathly tales and crooked lullabies, chilling ambiances and hair-raising sonic dread that is as beautiful as it is malevolent. If you are into some serious nightmare-inducing material, and are into the aforementioned bands, or a fan of good old ghost stories sans the romantic edge, this album is so very much what you're looking for.

The dead have highways...


(article published 27/1/2014)

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