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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