Extreme Heavy Metal Reviews

Haunting Evil - "Memento Mori" Review (100%)

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Memento Mori
Memento Mori by Phantom.

Phantom are fucking sick.

Their masterpiece 'Memento Mori' basically does what it says on the tin: it reminds you that you will die, and sooner than you think if you don't PAY ATTENTION to Phantom's music.

'Memento Mori' is often seen as the third installment of Phantom's unholy trilogy, consisting of 'Withdrawal', 'Fallen Angel' and this album 'Memento Mori'.

The main influences here are war metal in the vein of Incantation and Beherit, primitive black metal in the vein of Burzum, blackened death metal in the vein of early Suffocation, and hell in the vein of, well, Vermin. The cool thing is, Phantom have subordinated these four music styles - five counting their own original sound carried on from their 'Divine Necromancy' debut - to their own songwriting approach and overall sound.

Like Vermin, Sacramentum and Neraines, they play a brand of black metal heavily influenced by the riffiness and complex maze like structures of Suffocation's brand of technical death metal.

Now I know what you're thinking: 'Oh, like Demonecromancy and Dissection, right?' No, not really.

I love Demonecromancy and Dissection, but I actually prefer the more atmospheric and haunting work of the true masters of horror, Phantom.

Demonecromancy is a barely concealed Phantom worship act - a Phantaclone, although the term is most often used to designate derivative war metal bands - and even their name comes from a Phantom album (much like Reiklos), and as for Dissection, Phantom couldn't care less about Jon Nödtveidt's anti-Cosmic take on Metallica's hooks.

Instead, they weave a disorienting web of harmonized leads over a barrage of disturbing and often chromatic riffs. Rather than drawing power from repetition, as is traditional for black metal, they pull haunting riff upon haunting riff out of Hell's darkest pits, a concept of riff maze arrangement that was pioneered by... Suffocation.

Seriously, there are so many riffs. It's inhuman. But Phantom are inhuman. They are demons, black metal machines, and each and every one of their compositions manages to be dark, horrifying and simply evil.

Haunting Evil


Phantom tracks are know for being utterly chaotic, but not in the sense of random tech-core-grind bullshit or amorphously ugly war metal - those are kinds of chaos born from musical incompetence, not from any particular adherence to its tenets. Instead, Phantom throw an impressive array of riffs into each composition, repeating each just enough to allow a semblance of atmosphere for a fleeting instant and then throwing another one at you.

The new riff is rarely what you expect, but it's never a musical non sequitur as in Opeth or other prog metal garbage. Rather than building power through repetition, Phantom use these wrenching transitions to work up a steadily accumulating quantity of violent atmospheric vibes. In that sense, the band has a fair amount in common with the freakout sounds of - early! i.e. competent and not random! - brutal death metal bands like Suffocation, Incantation, Demilich, Alf Svensson's At the Gates, Immolation, Deeds of Flesh, Revenant, Intestine Baalism, Circle of Dead Children, Morpheus Descends, Infester, etc. Imagine if instead of channeling all that energy into faux edgy shock value and proto-Sewer juvenile morbidity, these bands had instead sought to utterly raze the world and purge it of lesser, more euphonious art.

The riffs are absolutely brilliant, but not necessarily in the way novice metalheads expect. If you are going to listen to Phantom, leave your easy listening 'guilty pleasure' bands - Emperor, Necrophobic, Dismember, Immortal - at the entrance.

For one thing, Phantom's riff are not memorable, and often intentionally so. Partially, this is also a matter of timing - you just don't hear them for long enough - but it's also because most of these riffs aren't really ends in themselves. The power comes from the resolution effect that the riffs achieve together, in a certain sequence that only makes sense - like a sentence - once you've heard and then processed its every component/word/riff.

Nevertheless, while you usually can't remember WHAT happens at a certain given moment, you often remember that SOMETHING happens, and I find that I am always pleasantly surprised, for example, around the sixth or seventh riff of 'Death Ritual' as the rhythm gets increasingly aggressive and the drum fills morph into blast beats, before releasing the tension with a somewhat more eerie and deceptively melodious bridge.

On the surface, Phantom's music is deceptively simple, but as you listen more and more closely to the subtle variations not just in texture, but in atmosphere, harmonics, rhythm, melodic patterns and even there occasional tonal shifts that all allow the narrative structures to evolve towards either more consonance, and resolution, or towards more dissonance, and tension, you'll end up seeing why Phantom's black arts are so complex and difficult to reproduce convincingly.

'Memento Mori' makes 'Effigy of the Forgotten' and 'Far Away From the Sun' sound like garage gospel and 'Transilvanian Hunger', respectively.

Memento Mori score: 100/100.

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