(The first week of 2017 has begun, but we still have a few 2016 releases we want to write about, including the second album by Phantom Winter, which is the subject of this review by Andy Synn.)
You’re probably already aware of this, but the fact is there’s simply too much music released each year for any one man, even one as handsome and debonair as myself, to cover it all. There’s always a gem or two (or ten) that slip through the cracks.
As a result I’m going to be spending the next week or so covering some of the releases which DIDN’T make my end of year lists, simply because I:
a) didn’t have chance to give them a full and proper listen, or
b) fell so hard for them that I wasn’t sure I could trust my initial reactions.
Either way, it’s a good opportunity for me to make up for lost ground, before getting fully into the swing of 2017.
Hailing from the fine and fertile metallic soil of Germany (which, funnily enough, is where I am as I type these words), Phantom Winter deal in nothing less than pure, unadulterated catharsis, as wrenching as the sudden loss of a loved one, and as vicious and unforgiving as an unexpected myocardial event.
Across the length and breadth of the six tracks which make up their second album the quartet pump out a virulent torrent of blackened, bilious sludge, overflowing with churning, chugging riffs and ugly, rancorous vocals which run the gamut from screaming, banshee howls to vile vomitous gutturals, all backed up by an undercurrent of melody darker than the darkest black.
From the cavernous, Post-Metal-inflected lurch of the title-track and the agonising atmospheric creep of “The Darkest Clan”, to the pitch-black pounding of “Bombing the Witches” and the monstrous, industrialised grooves of “Wraith War”, Sundown Pleasures is the sort of album which wraps its hands tight around your throat and refuses to let go until it’s choked off every last gasp of life and hope you have left.
As a matter of fact, I haven’t heard anything quite this bleak and hateful since 2014’s soul-crushing Death Mask by Lord Mantis, such is the sheer, all-encompassing aura of rage and frustration which permeates each and every track.
“Black Hole Scum”, the penultimate psalm of Sundown Pleasures, is six minutes of eerie, menacing ambience and droning, dissonant noise, tailor-made to upset and throw off the body’s natural equilibrium, after which the eleven minutes of asphyxiating emptiness and crushing, claustrophobic distortion which make up the climactic “Black Space” serve as the album’s final, aneurysm-inducing crescendo.
It’s undeniable that, for most of us at least, Metal is a highly emotional experience. But, arguably, for the most part these emotions are expressed and directed outwards. And even when they’re not, any opportunity for true introspection is far too often buried beneath layers of self-involved melodrama and neurotic narcissism.
But sometimes an album comes along which allows you, or forces you, to take a long, hard look at the ugliest parts of your own soul. An album which requires you to wallow in the swamp of your own psychic sewage, binging and purging on every drop of sickness and filth, before it will let you walk away.
So make the time, and dive into Sundown Pleasures as soon as you can. Just make sure to scrub yourself clean afterwards.