Phobocosm - Bringer of Drought - (6.5/10)
Published on May 8, 2016
Two years ago Phobocosm unleashed their devastating debut album, Deprived, and swept most of the death metal world by storm. A crossroad where ideas modern, old school, and experimental intersected it forged a distinct identity of massive walls of dissonant theme in obedience to an overarching doom like melodic sensibility. The album was a wall of dread and desolation but tightly composed and executed, at once frenetic and desperate yet moribund in its aims. With their four song follow-up, feeling a bit more like an EP than a whole album, Phobocosm further emphasize the more alien parts of their sound, becoming a bit doomier in the process. The results are somewhat uneven; perhaps this represents a transition state of their career but for now we’re left with a package that is refreshingly ambitious but also at times awkwardly unbalanced.
I’ll admit, I didn’t have very high hopes for Bringer of Drought after I stood through its intro. A nearly eight minute long dirge, it has the band’s recognizable dissonant yet darkly melodic tonality but winds itself through up a slow burning intro and layers of hazy repetition awash with withered chords; it’s a case of the individual parts being cool (the riffs in this case) but the structure that holds them together isn’t at the same level. This intro in a way sets the tone for the rest of the album with its bold usage of unsettling riffing in longer, stretched out arrangements. Whereas its predecessor had a much stronger death metal underpinning in its rigid compositions that balanced motion and burrowing tone with violent shifts in theme and direction, here the band become more nebulous and ambiguous. The straight up death metal parts are there but they’ve become smokier, fog like, shrouded in additional layers of twisted chords that are at once airy yet suffocating. This doesn’t quite obscure development however as much as it shifts the focus away from coldly calculated ferocity to worming in almost ambient textures over a carefully attentive rhythm section shifting to accentuate them. It’s definitely a very spacious album; even the abrupt blast sections aren’t really tearing you away from a comfortable tempo as much as they help usher in further iterations of the apocalyptic ambience they’re going for.
However if there’s one field I can say the band have stepped up their game it’s in the instrumentation. No, this isn’t going to be something the fretboard fondler “hue hue muh funny time signatures and weedle meedle heedly hoo leads” crowd masturbates over. It’s not something I’d really even call technical given what we commonly associate the term with. However I will say it is quite precise yet morbidly evocative, playing less so for intensity and showmanship and moreso to enhance the qualities of the compositional whole from the basic riff unto the overarching planning of each track. Guitar work explores a variety of shapes and territories many of which we can argue exist beyond purely death metal domains (even by the standards of the already genre-bending dissonant death movement) and they frequently blend dissonant and melodic voicings in expansive segments that do meander at points. However this is kept rooted by the clever drumming has stepped its game up further since the debut. The sense of timing for fills and rolls is immaculate yet in execution unintrusive, focusing less on shattering patterns and bringing them to crushing conclusions as much as they subtly commentate, fleshing out the implicit space and retaining undulating worm-like cadences beneath. The vocals have changed little but fit this style well as they narrate in discomfortingly calm bursts of gargle-growls, remaining monotone only to break into longer cord-flaying roars to emphasize a transition.
As a whole, Bringer of Drought doesn’t come close to its predecessor but it does demonstrate a progression on some grounds in spite of its shortcomings. In terms of technique there’s a lot more with this band to work with as they approach a level of avant-garde ambiguity balanced out by the remnants of their more solidly death metal beginnings. It’s not at a level of equilibrium as you can imagine with the songs being a bit wavy and oftentimes wandering about, but with their carefully chosen instrumentation, they manage to keep things more focused than the post/drone/indie/art school grad bait crowd. On a level of technical execution there’s a lot of advancement made not in the sense of playing better as much as more carefully as well, easily the best part of the album. I am a little let down personally but at the same time, I can already envision many places where what Phobocosm has displayed can lead them. For that, I’ll hold out for whatever’s next.