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Phantasmagoria could have been doomed from it's conception when band mastermind Daemon claimed that he was aiming for a more stripped-down, traditional black metal aesthetic featuring a minimal keyboard presence. Morfeus' departure is as big a blow to the band as can be expected; his inventive use of synth textures as well as the avant-garde edge he contributed to Limbonic Art's sonic palette 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. The Daemonic Era commences with familiar trinkets of terror, featuring absurdly dissonant riffs coexisting with a strong sense of rotten evil atmosphere. Daemon's vocal approach hearkens back to his short tenure with Zyklon more than anything, featuring his sepulchral bellows interspersed with more traditional croaking typical of the genre.
While I normally laud Morfeus as the contributor of the band's best riffs, Daemon certainly proves that he is no slouch regarding the abrasive guitar gymnastics that Limbonic Art has been playing up since Ad Noctum - Dynasty of Death. The guitars sound so abrasive and caustic, liquefying and melting the listener's eardrums as they swirl in animalistic patterns befitting of the occult subject matter. Sonically, they fall in line with The Ultimate Death Worship, but the performance comes off as more primal and agitated. Listen to the riotous, bouncy inclinations of "The Burning Vortex" and the galloping of "Prophetic Dreams". Both exude venal odium and killer instinct not unlike classics like "Void of Lifeless Dreams". The guitars dominate the mix so much that it would become irritating without the quality riffs to back it up. The tone has an underproduced, raw appeal that is far removed from the meaty crunch on Legacy of Evil. I enjoy both of these approaches, as they each slide into their comfort zones potently on both albums.
More enterprising from a compositional standpoint are the atmospheric, doom-infused numbers like "A Black Sphere of Serenity" and "Dark Winds". The former is over eight minutes long, but you barely notice as it's implosive atmosphere signals a dissociation of one's surroundings. Regardless, "Crypt of Bereavement" stands high and might above all. The sparse keyboards add a mournful atmosphere over the thrashing of the guitars and Daemon's otherworldly cackling. As the song nears it's end, it erupts into an operatic, clean vocal passage that sounds straight out of In Abhorrence Dementia.
Phantasmagoria's weakest track is actually the opener "Prologue / Phantasmagoria", as it follows a by-the-numbers approach and most definitely fails as a first impression. The nigh-overwhelming approach can also yield a few lulls in the action as per a general lack of contrast. The slower numbers help spice up the album's procession, but others like the overlong "Astral Projection" rumble by with riffs to stock and menial to catch. Part of this is due to the phoned-in programmed drum performance. Morfeus constructed Limbonic Art's infamous artificial percussive patterns on the other albums and Daemon simply lacks the ingenuity to match that high standard. The artificial drum samples that were endearing on albums like In Abhorrence Dementia are lacking here, as the kit follows a very straightforward, organic approach.
A Limbonic Art album without keyboards should expire before it even draws it's first breath, but Phantasmagoria has plenty of the recondite appeal the band is traditionally lauded for. I wasn't a huge fan of this album when it was first released, but it has proven to be a grower of a beast that might take multiple listens to fully comprehend and appreciate.