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Third time's a charm - 91%

failsafeman, November 19th, 2010

This has to be one of the more unusual career paths in metal history. Not because Phantom did anything particularly crazy, or because they love putting Battle Beasts on their album covers, but because they did something that no other traditional 80s band I can think of did. Their 1987 debut, Dead or Alive, was positively mediocre. It was characterized by lacklustre songwriting, weak falsetto, and a production that robbed it of whatever energy it might've had left. The follow-up was 1991's self-titled, which showed marked improvement in all areas, but still lacked that certain spark that sets a band apart. In 1993, Cyberchrist lit that spark, and turned into a towering inferno. Phantom started out crappy, but stuck to their guns and got steadily better over the course of their three albums, and by the last one they were one of the best. Even if no one but me says so! All without changing styles or more than a few band members. I don't care who you are, that's impressive.

Cyberchrist showcases some of the classiest US power/speed metal I've ever heard. Nearly every song is polished to the point of perfection. They're catchier than Iván Rodríguez, more energetic than Chernobyl NPP, and filled with more hooks than a freshly-stocked stream on the opening day of trout fishing season. This is an American answer to Painkiller, and unlike that album, the rest of Cyberchrist actually delivers on the promise of its devastating opening track. Riffs tend to be fairly simple, emphasizing speed metal repeated power chords with a lick at the end, but they're executed here with such skill that every single one is gripping. It's a great example of how traditional songwriting can be just as effective as anything else in the right hands, even though by 1993 America had more or less written off double-bass driven power/speed metal as a done deal. There's also a fair degree of Vicious Rumors-style rocking USPM in here; the classy sheen definitely brings to mind Digital Dictator, though clearly sped up a fair amount. On the other hand, the more laid back, bluesy sound of "Blind Man's Sight" reminds me of Dio's solo material. The lyrics are an obvious reference to the man's favorite themes, too.

But you can't talk about Cyberchrist without talking about the vocals. The vocals! Is this the same "Falcon" Eddie Green who sucked balls on their debut? It sounds like he's been injecting steroids directly into his vocal chords every day since then, because HOLY FUCKING SHIT does he have a set of pipes on him now. He comes from the same school of completely ridiculously high-pitched singers as Ski of Deadly Blessing, and he hits insanely high notes like each is the broad side of a barn, all without breaking into falsetto. Unlike Ski, however, Falcon's got a great vibrato and an awesome Halford-esque nasty snarl to his voice, giving it a mean tone that just makes him a joy to listen to every second he's got his mouth open. Put his wailing together with the speedy riffs, and the metal gods smile.

While the meat & potatoes of the album are clearly the high-octane speed metal numbers like "Well of Souls" and "Six Feet Under" and "Graveyard Shift", there is still a fair amount of diversity present on the album. Aside from "Blind Man's Sight" mentioned earlier, "Big Daddy" slows things down after the two speedy openers; not for a ballad, no, none of them here; instead we get a crushing ominous number that provides a great change of pace, before we come to the excellent title track. "Cyberchrist" features mournful vocals, moody riffs, and pre-chorus choirs chanting in Latin, proclaiming the second coming of robot Jesus. The chorus itself is one of the most gripping of the album, reminding me favorably of "Painkiller". "Psycho Zoo" on the other hand probably features the album's best guitar solos, along with a cool spoken-word bit that references Oppenheimer's famous quotation of the Bhagavad Gita. The threat of nuclear war might've sucked, but damn did it inspire a lot of great metal!

Really, anyone who likes this sort of thing will like this. If you don't, you probably won't have heard of Phantom or Cyberchrist in the first place, and I'm free to insult you because you're too busy listening to the latest post-black-shoegaze-depressive-ambient-pussy-shit album and crying softly to yourself to read this review. This album is the opposite of you.