Phazm - _Antebellum Death 'n' Roll_
(Osmose Productions, 2006)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (9.5 out of 10)
I suppose any band from here on out that attempts to meld the relentlessness of death metal with southern rock grooves will inevitably be compared to Entombed or, of course, the resultant Hellacopters; but that doesn't mean every such band is incapable of moving beyond the influence. You really have to admire bands like Phazm, so rooted in the death metal experience that they forego the obvious route of indulging their Sabbath-meets-Skynyrd jones under the more accepted aegis of stoner rock and insist on doing it their own way.

Phazm is still at heart a death band, and yet they manage both a grittier metal vibe -and- a more authentic boogie than one learned to expect out of the floodgates which imploded in the aftermath of _Wolverine Blues_. _Antebellum Death 'n' Roll_ owes most of its debt to the latter Entombed masterwork, _To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth!_, yet manages to sidestep any directly parallel comparisons in favor of a vision a little closer to home. "Black 'n' Roll" by all rights ought to be the band's theme song, and is one of many to feature that oh-so-effective harmonica moan (best heard on chugging, churning album opener "How to Become a God"). "Hunger" throws in a little tasty Duane Allman-inspired slide guitar and "So White, So Blue, So Cold" has a swampy vocal rasping -- like singing through a spinning fan -- and in terms of melting-pot songwriting is fully capable of being mentioned in the same breath as a band like Mastodon. Mind you, these are just the first four songs, a mere one-third of the album as a whole.

Also drenched with that lazy, deep swamp Louisiana vibe, "Damballah" employs the same rattlesnake vox with minimalistic, plinking percussion and a bass-driven groove, along with an almost Spanish guitar-influenced solo. Breathy gasps and moans underscore the menace of the despoiled proceedings. "Sabbath" is the least doom-laden of them all, in spite of its deliberately provocative title, and instead comes off as more of a banjo-and-harp country hoedown. These dudes are definitely not out to take themselves too damn seriously, although they do offer the somber instro "Lorelindorenan" as a more lucid bookend to their prior fooling around (nonetheless, that's a pretty playful title, innit?).

There are a pair of tunes ("My Darkest Desire" and "The Bright Side of Death") that are less rooted in southern rock than in plain old death metal, and they're easily the less interesting / entertaining of the bunch -- in fact, the only thing that keeps _Antebellum Death 'n' Roll_ from achieving a perfect score. Phazm seem to approach the crossroads between rock 'n' roll and extreme metal with a sincere reverence for both, and as such have not altogether tipped the scales toward one or the other. What's more, they've taken the time to write the instantly infectious grooves and melodies that make this less a work of art that you put on a shelf and admire from afar than one you can get your hands dirty with. Now who's buying the next fuckin' round, anyway?

P.S.: Don't forget the 50+ minute, professionally shot, multi-cam concert performance on the DVD side. Proves that these songs go down like a smooth shot of Kentucky bourbon even if you don't approach them in chronological order -- as if of a piece -- like I just did.


(article published 8/3/2007)

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