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Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Phantasma (review by Matt Spall)
Album Title: The Deviant Hearts
Label: Napalm Records
Year Of Release: 2015
When you consider the clientele involved in this record, I’m genuinely surprised that there’s not been more of a buzz about ‘The Deviant Hearts’ by Phantasma in rock/metal circles. Ok, so it may have been voted by readers of Loudwire.com as the release of November 2015 but aside from this, a smattering of reviews and a few mentions across various forums, it seems to have flown under the radar somewhat. But why is this surprising, exactly?
Phantasma is the brainchild of Serenity vocalist Georg Neuhauser and Everon multi-instrumentalist Oliver Philipps. Neuhauser has always been interested in historical-based themes as is consistently borne out by the lyrical content of Serenity. However, partnered by Philipps, he has been granted the opportunity to create a more story-based concept album. With the addition of Delain’s Charlotte Wessels as the third principal member of Phantasma, perhaps my surprise begins to make some sense. These are three well-known and respected musicians within the rock/metal world and would, I’d have thought, created a bigger stir than they have to date by coming together in such a way.
When you factor in the cast of guest musicians, the consternation only grows. Joining Neuhauser, Philips and Wessels is none other than Evergrey’s Tom Englund, Dennis Schunke (Van Canto) and Cloe Lowery (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) on vocals as well as drummer Jason Gianni (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Neal Morse Band), Randy George (Neal Morse Band) on bass and guitarist Tom Buchberger (ex-Serenity). As line-ups go, it’s a pretty heavyweight affair and one that, on paper, promises much.
As I downloaded the promo, I wondered whether it may have something to do with a lack of quality within the music itself. I therefore pressed play with slight trepidation. Within the space of a few songs however, this hypothesis was blown out of the water; the music is of a standard you’d readily expect from the personnel involved and has provided me with much enjoyment to put it mildly.
‘The Deviant Hearts’ is a slick and professional 12-track album that’s grandiose, ambitious and suitably varied throughout. Those familiar with the artists involved will immediately notice strong accents of their day jobs within the album. The big key/guitar walls of sound that dominate Everon’s output make several appearances as do the familiar chord progressions and Philipps’ thickly accented vocals. The melodic power metal sensibilities of Serenity play an active role, as do Neuhauser’s unique and powerful vocals, whilst Wessel’s contribution will have Delain fans purring thanks to another strong and committed performance.
However, for all the echoes and similarities, Phantasma offers something different to all three. From all-out metallic bombast to subtle ballads, to more modern touches, ‘The Deviant Hearts’ features it all whilst managing to maintain the feeling that this is a proper rock opera with all the pomp and circumstance that accompanies such a thing.
The album kicks off with ‘Incomplete’ a piano and vocal ballad featuring Philipps and Wessels behind the mic. If I’m honest, it isn’t the strongest of beginnings but I understand its inclusion in terms of the concept. Following hot on its heels however, is the title track and it’s here that the magic begins. The keys create a hugely opulent introduction before the drums and guitars add a sense of drama. It all drops away and an acoustic guitar is joined by the soulful and utterly beguiling vocals of Tom Englund as he makes the first of two guest appearances on the record. And then there’s the chorus which is, frankly, enormous and hook-laden.
‘Runaway Gray’ produces another bombastic chorus within a quieter, more ballad-like number dominated by Wessels’ heartfelt vocals. ‘Try’ is another ballad that features Cloe Lowery on lead vocals and is one of my favourites on the record. I love the way it grows and in true Everon style packs a huge melodic punch, although Lowery’s voice at the beginning and end of the song is what draws me I for repeated listens, such is her fragile and absolutely beautiful delivery.
My all-time favourite metal voice returns in the more openly bombastic and up-tempo ‘Enter Dreamscape’ but Tom Englund’s wonderfully unique tones are this time joined by Neuhauser’s equally familiar timbre. It’s not a bad combination as I’m sure you’ll agree.
‘The Lotus And The Willow’ slows the pace again with absolutely beautiful results, mainly thanks to the excellent songwriting and another commanding performance by Wessels in particular. ‘Crimson Course’ has more of a Serenity stamp all over it, albeit with added rock opera pomp and some well-placed modern synth effects. It is here that Neuhauser reminds me forcefully why I consider Serenity to be one of my all-time favourite melodic metal bands.
‘Carry Me Home’ is a slightly quirkier, modern-sounding track that benefits greatly from Randy George’s elegant bass playing and Schunke’s rich timbre. Again, that satisfying Everon wall of sound re-enters the fray helping to build momentum into the composition.
For me though, one of the best moments on ‘The Deviant Hearts’ is reserved for the final act, in the shape of ‘Let It Die’. Arguably the most grandiose and over-the-top of all the compositions, it is a delight. Wessels shares the mic with Philipps principally with great results but it is the chorus that sends shivers down my spine as it’s irresistibly melodic and as a big Everon fan, its overt bombast and epic overtones strikes a real chord with me.
So there you have it. This is a very solid and nicely put-together record with some real knock-out moments, meaning that overall, there’s very little not to like about ‘The Deviant Hearts’; strong songwriting, heartfelt performances and a slick production from an impressive group of musicians means that Phantasma have delivered a grand melodic rock opera that offers a very high level of enjoyment time and time again.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0
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