The abstract cover art by Synckop for the new album by the French band P.H.O.B.O.S. is remarkably vibrant, yet enigmatic. It could be seen as a pure abstraction, the colors and shapes evoking an emotional response that’s dependent at least in part on what the viewer brings to the experience. But when you listen to the music of P.H.O.B.O.S., you may see it in a different way. You may see in it the emergence of a terrible visage, an inhuman one streaked in blood.
“Smothered In Scoria” is the name of the song we’re presenting today, the one that closes this eight-track album, the name of which is Phlogiston Catharsis. It has the capacity to pin the listener in place like a moth affixed to a display, still wriggling. Visions of immense and implacable terror rise up through the music; the peril is palpable, the impact of the sound riveting but unnerving.
P.H.O.B.O.S. are a well-known quantity, with three other albums preceding this new one, and their most recent releases consisting of a 2014 split with Blut Aus Nord (Triunity) and a 2015 EP (श्मशान काली). Yet although the name may ring bells, the music has evolved. There is the sense that the band’s releases are way-points in a continuing experiment in sonic alchemy. As revealed within Phlogiston Catharsis, they have taken ingredients of black metal, doom, and industrial metal (among others) and transmuted them into something else that doesn’t fit neatly into any of those pigeonholes, something arresting.
“Smothered In Scoria” is nothing if not arresting — it arrests attention, leaves the listener rapt — and chilled down to the marrow. Distorted chords rings out like immense foghorns within a rolling bank of poison gas, heralding the coming of something fearsome. Shrieking tones spear out like the wailing of ghosts. The rhythmic pulses go off like detonations, but not in some easily predictable way that lines up in lock-step with the twisted chords and notes, which seem to slither and warp.
The harsh voice that cries out through this dense, near-overpowering crush of sound is crazed and cruel. One imagines a white-eyed, blood-soaked demon railing vituperations at massed acolytes in a torch-lit subterranean vault, preparing to lead them toward the achievement of some awful abomination.
Spectral tones continue to flicker and spiral as the immense, heaving and lurching monstrosity of sound moves toward its conclusion, the lead guitar creating ephemeral, mystical intonations within the overarching oppressiveness of the music. The song swallows you whole.
Listen to the track, and then take another look at the album cover.
Phlogiston Catharsis will be released on September 10th by Transcending Obscurity Records. The label recommends it for fans of Drug Honkey, Godflesh, Scorn, Eyehategod, 0N0, Ufomammut, Corrupted, and Pale Horseman.
Two previously released album tracks are available for streaming at Bandcamp, where you can also pre-order the album.