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Limbonic Art's Phantasmagoria was doomed from its conception when remaining brainchild Daemon claimed that he was aiming for a more stripped down, traditional black metal sound featuring little -if any- keyboard presence. Morfeus' departure is as big a blow to the band as can be expected; his inventive use of keys & samples as well as the avant-garde edge he contributed to the band's sound are all sorely missed here.
Any other band would already be six feet under, but Daemon proves he can function satisfactorily as a one-man wrecking crew. Phantasmagoria still boasts Limbonic Art's signature sound, with absurdly dissonant riffs interconnected with a strong sense of atmosphere. Daemon's vocal performance hearkens back more to his short tenure with Zyklon than anything, with a half howl/half growl approach defining the majority of the lyrical assault. Some gutturals and deviations from this style are interspersed throughout the album. I consider this change inoffensive, as it definitely fits the sound well and doesn't detract from the experience.
There are plenty of good riffs on display in Phantasmagoria, but also a lot of meandering simple sections that do absolutely nothing riveting. The album's unnecessary length is the result of this. Crypt of Bereavement, however, is a great example of Daemon getting everything right regarding his latest and greatest definition of "raw black metal". Exceptional riffs, a tactful use of keys, and a grand choir-driven final section that harkens back to In Abhorrence Dementia are all on display here. The problem is, for every Crypt of Bereavement, there is a mediocre exercise in futility such as the title track. While keyboards do remain an important cog, there is little diversity. The majority of the keyboard sections consist of simple string sounds that appear content with simply following the guitar riffs and never carving their own majestic path through the chaos. Morfeus' absence is felt the most here; a gaping wound remains.
The final nail in the coffin is the production. In the past, I complained about The Ultimate Death Worship's abrasive sound, but that album sounds crystal clear next to Phantasmagoria. All of the instruments and vocals almost sound bottle-necked into the same narrow frequency range, making it incredibly difficult to discern much of the melody. The guitars have no low end whatsoever, and when I attempted to crank this album in my car it literally rendered it inaudible; simply a wall of static. I have never heard such a failure of a mixing job in my life. What hurts the most is that it was likely intentional, to help contribute to the "raw" sound Daemon was going for.
I applaud Daemon for forging ahead without his prime collaborator, and Phantasmagoria would be a great release if it came from any other band. This is, however, Limbonic Art, and we expect better. A few great tracks can't save it.
Prime cuts: Crypt of Bereavement, Prophetic Dreams, and Astral Projection
Limbonic Art has always been known for producing competent symphonic black metal by the inseparable duo consisting of Daemon and Morfeus. So what happens when one of them leaves all of a sudden? You get something that sounds like Phantasmagoria, an album with a few decent ideas but ultimately missing many things. Daemon sounds a bit rusty in his skills and it shows a bit here.
It comes as no surprise that Limbonic Art, or at least Daemon, would converge the music to something like Phantasmagoria. This started with Ultimate Death Worship and continued on to Legacy of Evil, ultimately reaching to what we have today. The band had done away with their symphonic style and converged to raw, abrasive, space themed black metal with occasional keyboards making a faint appearance in the background. This style of change has never been a problem for me because the last few Limbonic Art albums are still great to listen to, but Phantasmagoria has shown various signs of deterioration.
My main gripe about this album is the overall sound. I can't exactly hit the nail on the head, but the guitars really try to overpower everything else. Don't get me wrong, it's bad when guitars are drowned out by other elements, but here they sound way too invasive. It's like standing close to a ringing fire alarm - so abrasive. It just doesn't sound too good. Also, Daemon sounds incredibly tired in his vocals. Vocal abilities, in my opinion, were never a strong part of Limbonic Art, but here they are as stale as ever. Most times, Daemon is simply shouting while trying to screach his voice. He does a much better job with roaring shrieks. This combination creates almost no atmosphere within the music and easily becomes forgettable, if not tiresome.
There are some good ideas, though, namely the riffs. I know they don't sound good, but if produced with better quality and songwriting, they would be an even bigger asset. They are indeed memorable on tracks like Astral Projection. Drumming for the most part is still solid. Chances are Daemon used a drum machine, but it's the ideas that count and here they really fit despite the awkward production.
Other than that, listening to this album just isn't as satisfying as other Limbonic Art releases. Some of the songs drag on way too long and there isn't much variety between tracks. There are some nice surprises in between, like the ending of Crypt of Bereavement, but there ultimately aren't that many. What I think Phantasmagoria suffers the most from is a bit of genre confusion. It could be a great trash album if it clean a few things up in terms of songwriting, but it could also be a fantastic black metal album if it fixed production issues. Instead it's a mediocre bridge between a couple of different genres while arbitrarily throwing in a few minute symphonic elements.
Phantasmagoria isn't terrible - it just isn't that great, but you're better off giving other Limbonic Art albums a shot . They are far more interesting...even Dimension F3H would be a far better alternative for the Limbonic Art fans. I'll accept this album as a flop and hope that Daemon salvages the good elements from here to improve a future album.
A festive joke for you all: What lasts much too long, quickly gets boring and you're glad it's over come the end of it? No, not Christmas, the latest Limbonic Art album now being reviewed. Ok it did infact come out in July, a month not renowned for it's festive cheer, but "Phantasmagoria" has unexcited me so greatly it's taken till now to complete it's dissection with the result being grimmer than the onset of December at a turkey farm.
Now being the sole project of Daemon following long-term member Morfeus' departure after the band's sixth and previous album, "Phantasmagoria" is the second LP since reforming in 2006, 3 years after the band initially quit claiming their well of ideas had run dry. Clearly Daemon is confident the water now flows freely enough to warrant another album but if this represents a man for whom inspiration has waned over the years he should probably consider calling it quits again soon. At 71 draining minutes over 12 songs any listener will find their patience being sorely tested by the mid-way point with the seemingly same symphonically-charged hyper-speed black metal attack being rehashed ad nauseum, reflecting the desperate need for a second mind to spark variation in the tone and feel of the album's procession. Second track "Crypt of Bereavement" has its better, slower moments but so much of what follows through "Portal to the Unknown", "A World in Pandemonium" and "Apocalyptic Manifestation" emerges doggedly difficult to navigate without the supply of memorable riffs and variation worthy of the name as the album's massively layered Emperor-esque production fills your brain to the explosion with it's incessant charge and inability to generate any interest at all.
Limbonic Art possess an element of the avant-garde edge that fellow Scandinavian's Arcturus and Finntroll own in more artistically crafted quantities but such is the staid manner of it's disposal you could be forgiven for thinking this band the black metal equivalent of Dragonforce - having written one good song pushing the accelerator to the max and repeating that formula as often as possible. Sometime ago I got through 1996's "Moon in the Scorpio" much more successfully where it's grimier production had the desired effect of anchoring the band's symphonic edge to a more sinister world, but sadly on "Phantasmagoria" we're left with half a band merely prolonging the Limbonic Art name without offering anything much to the current world.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
Limbonic Art makes a magnificent come back with Phantasmagoria. Daemon the mastermind of the band decided to kick out Morfeus, in order to create an album of pure black metal art. I consider Phantasmagoria one of their greatest efforts (in my opinion the other two masterpieces of the band are Ad Noctum and in Abhorrence Dementia). Daemon proves that is a brilliant musician and that he was the true soul of Limbonic Art all these years.
Phantasmagoria is full of surprises. Black metal riffs are combined with a lot of excellent funeral doom elements, symphonic parts, death, grind and even some dark thrash riffs. A cult black metal atmosphere is haunting the listener track after track that feels surrounded by the mouldy walls of the darkest dungeon. No hope, no light, no life can enter the new somber world of Limbonic Art. The keyboards this time are more essential, dark and mature and create a true black atmosphere. But the atmosphere is not Wagnerian as their record label says. The “Wagnerian” elements are very few but that don’t change at all the dark splendour of this masterpiece. The vocals are the best that Daemon has ever done. I consider him to be by far the greatest singer in the history of black metal.
The sound production is extremely good and succeeds in giving a boost to the cursed darkness of the whole album. Also the programmed drums are the best this band has ever had. The impressive lyrics have to do with necromancy, death, paranormal phenomena and the futility of the mundane human existence. Almost all the songs of the album are superb hymns of the black metal genre. To choose some of them is extremely difficult but if I someone puts a gun in my head forcing me to choose among them then I would have to say : “Crypt of Bereavement”, “Dark Winds” “A World In Pandemonium”, “ The Burning Vortex”, “A Black Sphere of Serenity” and “Astral Projection”.
I really consider Phantasmagoria already to be one of the classic gems in the history of the black metal and maybe the greatest effort of the band.
The best days of Limbonic Art are long behind them now, having peaked in 1997-99 with the albums In Abhorrence Dementia and Ad Noctum, but the band still struggles forward, a wraith of its once promising existence. However, this is not some gaunt apparition creeping about a deserted castle, but the real estate agent of said castle, leering at you from the front gate as it hurls its keys in desperate attempts to find a buyer. That Phantasmagoria, the band's 7th full-length is the work of a battlement chiseled down to but one gargoyle, Vidar Jensen, is possibly telling of either a decline in interest or a hostile takeover, but nonetheless, we have a man here who has put a lot of effort into the guitars, drums, bass, vocals and keyboards, so to that extent the savage and 'true' delivery of the sound is somewhat impressive.
What the album lacks is memorable music, as Vidar rolls through over 70 minutes of aimless compositions that lack anything even bordering on good riffs or surprise elements. Whether it's the glaring, slowly churned daemon energy of "Curse of the Necromancer", the even more spacious "Dark Winds", or the blasting mayhem of "Apocalyptic Manifestation", "Portal to the Unknown", or the rollicking of "The Burning Vortex", there is simply nothing enthralling happening within these once vaunted walls. The primal delivery is fully intact, in fact this record gets quite fucking heavy, a truer tribute to an In the Nightside Eclipse than many of Limbonic Art's prior offerings. Vidar is a one man storm, of this there can be absolutely no denial, but the songs ramble by with such obvious, sadistic glamours that you don't once feel as if you've been swept up by a spectral armada for a crash course in dungeon torture. The music does not haunt or thrill, it does little else than exist, and it has far less of a symphonic discourse to fall back upon than its elder siblings. The one possible exception to the drab procession is the track "A Black Sphere of Serenity", late in the order, which at least offers a passable black/doom intro segment.
It's not the first time I've been underwhelmed by a work of this band. I didn't care much for the past two albums The Ultimate Death Worship or Legacy of Evil either. I have no opposition to the huge, atmospheric style Daemon is trying to punish us with, but at least a few more catchy, diabolic hooks would be required to return to its damp sorcery. The band once split up due to a lack of ambition for what could come next, so I find it a little ironic that they return and produce two further albums that lack for such inspiration. Phantasmagoria might hold minimal interest to fans of Troll's Drep de Kristne, Covenant's In Times Before the Light, or Emperor's Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, but it is devoid of their tangible trinkets of terror. I'll applaud this man's incessant energy and willingness to continue along his dreary path, but I hope he finds a better outlet for his talents thank vacuous black metal of this quality.