I know I'm not the only one, but I recently thought to myself, "Whatever happened to PHAZM?" The black metal experimentalists were onto something a decade ago with "Antebellum Death 'n Roll", one of the few extreme acts at the time who'd managed to effectively drop pure rock and other wild elements into their work without being hokey. At the time, I felt the French quartet was going to rule their sector forever, having released three terrific albums in a four year span: "Hate at First Seed", "Antebellum Death 'n Roll" and "Cornerstone of the Macabre".
Whatever sent Pierrick (aka "Pierhryck") Valence away in 2009 when PHAZM was momentarily laid to rest seemed to have been purged as he, Joss Dreau and Pierre "Gorgor" Schaffner resurrected the band in 2012. Adding bassist Fabien W. Furter in 2014, PHAZM is finally ready to resume course with the release of their fourth album, the astonishing "Scornful of Icons".
Sadly, the death of Pierrick Valence's father went into the making of "Scornful of Icons", but to his and PHAZM's credit, the sorrow and anger fueling this album comes across as productive purifying instead of unfocused hatred. "Scornful of Icons" is plenty brutal, but artistry comes first, ferocity second.
Within the first whirling chords of "Guinnungagap", if you're a PHAZM fan, you'll be smiling with teeth bared. Terrific progressions, melodious triads, run amok blast beats, that underlying rocker's soul and the buzzing mecha-whirs Valence is well-known for threading amidst his furious snarls. Such outlandish throat tones never get old coming from him. This is a wonderfully crafted welcome home and it's a mere set-up to the staggering thrash raid on "Ubiquitous Almighty" and the superbly-written "The Soothsayer". The former is whipping chaos harnessed within its own might, while the latter builds its blitzing ascent on the heels of bass-bumped jive rock and black metal chutes.
"The Godless Pope" is classic black metal incarnate (ditto for "Never to Return") with Pierrick Valence hitting his nastiest, most outraged shrieks. It proves why PHAZM was about to turn this scene upside down, as rocked-up mosh sequences interject between the band's torrential inferno. "The Godless Pope" is thus terrifying and entertaining as hell. The opening yowls on "Howling for You" are frankly nutty, but the band turns out a stomp and mosh spool that you just know is going to come besieged by berserker thrash and grind lines. "Howling for You" thus turns awesome in a hurry, particularly during the blazing solo section.
It's easy to figure out how PHAZM is going to lay out "Conquerors March", but it's still a marvel listening to them bounce between straightforward tramping rhythms and savage thrash, particularly the guitar congruity between Pierrick Valence and Joss Dreau. The surprise part of the track comes with a harrowing slowdown where Gorgor shows off a cavalcade of march rhythms and accelerating bpms en route to an explosive finale engulfed by cawing crows, thunderstorms and a somber string segment. The violin is immediately set free to frolic in tandem with an acoustic line as the intro to the punishing yet ornate title track.
It appears this year is to be marked by the return of exciting metal bands who'd briefly called it a day and come back better than ever. "Antebellum Death 'n Roll" being one of the best albums of 2006, PHAZM delivers a career-defining epic ten years later. Rejection of monotheism being the core message behind "Scornful of Icons", it is one of the most expressive and rocking albums black metal's seen in recent years. Glad to have you back, fellas. Don't let "Never to Return" be your final say.