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Skycontact is one of those polarizing albums that usually shuns old fans away from a band's later work due to its radical escape from familiar playing grounds, and more often than not a completely disparity in the collective's approach to songwriting. Only three years separate this release from the band's debut album but the differences are perfectly evident. A not so keen eye will rapidly notice the completely revamped and rather subdued band logo, along with the seriously cheesy artwork. Not that earlier works featured brilliant artwork, but come on... A blue baby swimming with guitar-shaped fishes?! I have no idea what kind of drugs they were doing back then but they surely must've been of the psychedelic kind. And curiously enough that same psychedelic aspect seems to have somehow managed to creep its way into the musical composition. This clearly isn't your typical album by any stretch of imagination, as you'll witness the band rapidly changing from upbeat rocking grooves into quasi-ambient psychedelia, intermixed with a forlorn death metal riff here and there. Yes, death metal still exists in this album, although it's completely subdued due to how quirky the songs are and just how much different stuff is mixed into each one.
The band insists mainly on alternating between the components cited above, but there are so many uncharacteristic elements being constantly splashed into most of the songs that it's hard to become indifferent to what goes on in this record. "Achin'" for instance has a part that reminds me pretty much of The Police! Picture the pre-chorus of "Message In A Bottle" and them witness the opening minutes of that song, after the initial brute-force entry. Later on the same song they go as far as doing pure unadulterated, albeit rather sloppy, punk! It's really like nothing you've ever listened to before. But the major underlying force that the albums shows, much like its absolute dismay for genre boundaries, is its ability to maintain a constant sense of atmosphere and harmony that just keeps hitting you more and more with every passing song. Like ripple tides splashing in your face from the blue baby swimming with the fishes, more and more of it comes at your face, and the more you get the more you want! It's really that addictive! Try listening to the instrumental "Sometimes", with its tension riddled build-up bringing late 90s post-rock to mind, and witness the transition into the cutely named "I Lost My Cookies In The Disco". Although it features a vapid song title it does so happen to be the heaviest track on this album, and actually the one with more death metal elements on display. Progressive death metal riffs collide with haunting vocal overtones and an almost folk ambient passage near the ending of the song. It's a pure sham though, as it rapidly brings back the disco-like main riff and the ensuing punk passage.
Now, there are avant-garde albums and bands aplenty throughout the world of metal, but what Phlebotomized did here comes out as a complete mishmash of whatever you could find. In the liner notes for this album's reissue it's mentioned that Skycontact was the byproduct of the band members clashing against each other, and the inner turmoil that was going between them. But in reality what I can hear in this album isn't people fighting each other, but rather challenging one another into a roller coaster ride of ideas. It seems that within the composition process of each song someone came in and defied the other's space, making him go up and against him to try and regain space. As unnatural as it may sound towards the end result I think that it was this purely unintentional approach to songwriting that provoked such a sonic outcome in the end. Because when you listen to this album closely, and I mean really listen, with an open mind and foregoing stated opinions of it being shitty or over-the-top, you'll begin noticing just how fluid it really is. A very distinctive progressive/psychedelic rock shade is always looming over the lengthier compositions, while clashing with abruptly placed punk passages that serve as mini-breaks amidst those large songs and a very melodic and joyous approach to death metal. And the point is that none of it feels out of place! The lost cohesion, as is said in those same liner notes, is apparently still there and very much responsible for this not sounding like a disjointed mess.
In a way this album verges a bit on Edge Of Sanity's mid-nineties work, namely Crimson, and this influence is best witnessed in the four part suite that closes the album. Much like on Crimson the opening theme is recurring and apparently never-ending, coming time and time again to smoothly caress you. What this 22 minutes song divided in four parts shows is Phlebotomized going for the jugular with the progressive aspects of their music, and most importantly with the listener's expectations. Segmentation is pretty clear though, as with each new part entering the stage there's this roleplay of subsiding and climaxing in the music. My favourite parts are the two mid sections, namely "Never Lose Hope" with its brilliantly slow acoustic build-up, and "Imagine This" which provides the necessary fluency in the composition for it to properly connect with the remaining segment. It should be noted that the violin isn't as prevalent in this album as it was in the debut, but when it does appear it's instantly noticeable and perfectly applied, providing this solemn sense of melancholy and calm that just rides with you in atmospheric bliss. Another noteworthy point is that this album has a pre-track that lasts over 7 minutes, requiring you to backtrack it before the opener. Thankfully on the reissue they pasted it just before the closing suite, and I must say that I'm glad they did because it's a massive interlude with a very interesting sense of tension versus atmosphere. And in a sense it serves perfectly as a bridge to what ensues later on.
It's funny when I look back on myself a few years back, avidly listening to Immense Intense Suspense and craving for more and more of this band, only to find myself and my expectations utterly squashed by what this album sounded like. I mean, I was literally shocked by how awful it was! I guess this just comes to show me (and potentially you, the reader) just how much the amusement taken out of a musical work derives from the expectations we place on it. I expected Skycontact to be another brutishly blasting album with death/doom passages and a general experimental edge. What I got in return was nearly the opposite, hence my reaction at the time. I can understand how polarizing this album must've been back when it came out, and how in a way it still is due to its escapist nature and absence of respect for boundaries. It's not an easy album to digest, not when it reminds me of Edge Of Sanity, In The Woods..., The Police or Genesis! Nope, it isn't going to be an easy one for sure, and even when it comes to avant-garde metal this is very much over-the-top in its pretentiousness. But do yourself a favour; leave those expectations waiting in the backyard for a while, crack up a bottle of your best distilled flavour, and just kick back and enjoy the relaxing and soothing nature of this album. It's definitely worth your time and far-off from being a piece of crap like many still insist on calling it. This one is just different from even the nonnormative ones, and while therein lies its downfall so does its brilliance and sheer beauty.
I know it’s cheap and possibly lame to take exception to a bad review, but in regards to this album, which I love, I must.
First off I must state that this album is a beautiful and essential part of the saga of Phlebotomized as well as modern music in general. It shifts genres effortlessly and in the tradition of the band without a care for what convention might dictate. It conjures up so many kinds of emotions and images that only the image on the cover could possibly illustrate what the album is like. It is art, pure and simple, be it pop or death metal (it is both!).
The album is broken into two parts, the first being a set of four (five if you count the excellent hidden track “Dizz-Tanze” which deal with various themes such as confusion (“Achin”) and the wordless lyrics of the music (“Sometimes”). The second half is a suite called “I Hope You Know (A Cry in July)” which details the regret and shame of the vocal protagonist (in regards to some misdeed). The suite repeats musical passages and folds inwards and backwards onto itself multiple times which invite repeated listenings in full while the catchier numbers lie on the first half of the recording.
The band sounds like they are jamming it out a great deal of the time, “Sometimes” showcases the group trekking through melodic territory without the use of vocals and lo, suddenly a beautiful guitar counter melody is birthed upon the ears, bringing the fruits of pleasure. This occurs in a different fashion in “Achin” and “StoleShowSoul” as hard rock (and some death metal) transforms into very low key ambience with some samples and textures from the keyboards. It is like they are in fact touching the place where the earth turns into the sky, their title theme. I can see it when I listen to the album (without “help” mind you, but if you got the assistance then by all means use it!).
The suite is something else entirely, “A Cry In July” begins with a rocky guitar riff supported by the insistent drumming showcased on the album, and then soon soars into something else. Clean vocals and subdued instruments follow which in turn are followed by harsh vocals which make up the chorus. It goes so many places so quickly and without strain that it simply amazes me (I’m listening to it now). This continues through the entirety of the four song cycle which varies so much and works so well because it is so easy to get lost in. It’s challenging because while it might not be “metal” per se (which might anger and confuse those looking for something heavier) but is great music. There is so much to love here; I believe that this album can be enjoyed by anyone who loves intelligent rock music in general, as its breadth is very, very wide.
The term Avant-Garde brings up a lot of connotations when I read it, but as with most forms of creativity it works best when the performers do not force it. That is what is so great about this album, it never sounds like the band was trying to press something down into the songs and by proxy the audience. It’s like a series of quick paintings and drawings that were done by people who were totally inspired by something both whimsical and melancholy within them and simply allowed it to flow outwards. Yes, it is in some ways simple, but it is also startlingly effective in captivating me, a trait that it shares with the group’s earlier output. It does not expect anything from the listener beyond the fact it can be absorbed and appreciated for both what it is (gorgeous!) and what it can be when heard many times (perhaps transcendent?).
Some readers may take my statements and infer that the album is some sort of colorless and pretentious exercise that will wash over the ears like skill-devoid watercolor and end up on the floor. This is not true. If you are looking for something different that combines many different beloved modern musical styles (channeled through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s) this may well be your ticket to bliss for many listens to come. Please give it chance, you might congratulate yourself for it.
I have been mulling over whether or not to write this review for a good six months now because it meant that I would have to listen to this album again, but I’ve decided to do so, in the hopes that by taking one for the team I will save at least a few people from the horrors that lie within this CD.
Well, if you’re reading this review, chances are that you’ve heard the début album by Phlebotomized - the amazingly original and almost masterful album that is Immense, Intense, Suspense. Chances are, too, that you were hoping that Skycontact would pick up from where Immense, Intense, Suspense left off. Don’t worry, that’s exactly what I was hoping for too, there’s nothing wrong with that, “Why fix what isn’t broken?” Right? Well, the band had other ideas here. Put quite simply, Skycontact is NOT Immense, Intense, Suspense, Skycontact is NOT metal, I’d even go so far as to say that Skycontact is NOT music.
“What’s so bad about it?” I hear you asking. Well, let’s start with the aesthetics, shall we? The artwork here is a perfect indicator of what is to follow. Seriously, what the fuck is on the cover? Do I see a fish fused with a guitar… are those fish instruments? Yes, they are. They are swimming right there, next to the bird-stingrays. Wait, what’s that in the distance? Is that a Lemming surfing on that bird-stingray? Yes, it is. The surfing Lemming better be careful though because he’s going to crash straight into the ethnically-Asian-blue-baby-genie-sea monster, and that would be a tragedy. Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, we may address the fact that a terrible album cover does not necessarily mean a terrible album (DIGRESSION: Riot’s first 5 albums or so are testament to this – with Born In America featuring two mansealbear things unwittingly shitting on a vertical American flag) but when the music IS horrible, it’s just the cherry on top.
Those prone to queasiness should look away now as I’m about to describe the music. Where should I begin? There’s just so much wrong here that’s it’s hard to know where to start. Okay, let’s go with the composition and arrangement, which fucking suck – every song on this album sounds as though the band threw a bunch of concepts into a randomiser and decided to record whatever faecal matter came out. An example of this are the spasmodic breaks and interludes in which the short-lived fast tempo is slowed down to a crawl and taken over by pop-like clean vocals or pitiful attempts at ambient.
I should mention now too that the clean vocals are almost criminally bad in this album (and no, these are not the same as the vocals in parts of the début, Gone… for instance. No, not at all.) and that those of you who enjoyed the harsh vocals in Immense, Intense, Suspense will be crushed at the news that this album holds roughly 2 minutes in total of them spread out across 51 minutes of bullshit. This album contains more pop elements than metal ones, these can be found in the instrumentation, the vocals, and the feel of most of the songs. A perfect example of this can be found on A Cry in July in which the music moves along at a snail pace and the clean vocalist bellows out what surely is an excerpt from last week’s episode of American Idols or X-factor, the kind of thing that pre-pubescent girls eat up.
You guys remember how amazing the strings were in Immense, Intense, Suspense? Of course you do. Now, forget them, unless you want to make this more painful for yourself. This is because the ones in Skycontact are soul-crushingly disappointing to someone expecting what appears on the début, they play much more of a back-seat on this album; they aren’t badly played - it’s just that they are so fucking sporadic, pathetically composed, and out-of-place (much like everything else on this album) that their inclusion is nothing less than excruciating.
This whole package wouldn’t be quite so bad if their were some displays of quality guitarwork anywhere on this album. You know, a cool riff here or there, maybe even a classy solo but no, nothing at all doing say Phlebotomized. Instead, we are treated to almost an hour of genre-hopping noise in which the only guitarwork heard is a short barrage of power-chords (practically the exact same ones in several songs) and a sloppily written riff or two (a few of these can be found on I Lost My Cookies In The Disco which, coincidently, is the kind of name that would have -core kiddies pulling at each other’s straightened fringes for the rights to). You know, I just made mention of the genre-hopping found in this album – well, it’s acceptable in avant-garde and it really wouldn’t be such a big deal if they didn’t suck at every genre they hopped to. There are bits of almost everything here; pop, grunge, rock, ambient, weak doom, fusion (the list goes on and on) – which, alone, sound terrible but when put together amalgamate into quite possibly the most effective method of torture the world has ever seen.
Phlebotomized broke up and disappeared off the face of the earth shortly after this album was released, some say they were too ashamed to continue with their lives and the need to repent for the sin they committed by unleashing the horror that is Skycontact upon the world made them end their existences in a group suicide; others say that they just stopped making music because they realised that they are nauseating at it. I say, avoid this album like the fucking plague.
Skycontact is Phlebotomized's sophomore effort which retains little to nothing from their previous LP « immense, intense, suspense », quirkiness aside (in the likes of Pan.Thy.Monium), of course.
Brutality has drastically decreased (if we consider « immense, intense, suspense » brutal, which in my opinion is quite farfetched) although heavy, dense and muddy guitar riffs are still present as growled vocals do. But this time emphasis is put on melodies and mood, as the ever present keyboard or the presence of clean vocals indicate.
The album's genre is quite difficult to define because of its heterogeneous composition. You could easily find passages that could be described as: "ambient", pop, death metal (but no blast beats whatsoever), fusion, grunge, rock, doom (-ish)... although not every song features all these influences, (thrashy) death metal and « ambient » are what you'll come across more often than not.
Production-wise it's pretty good, although the mastering volume is kind of low. Unlike most modern metal productions you can actually hear the bass, which for one isn't treated as a secondary instrument but has its place and, sometimes, is even used without distorted guitars/drums (e.g., « never lose hope », which starts off as an atmospheric ambient-ish track with piano, strings (violin/classical guitar) and bass).
This album is clearly for the open-minded who enjoys savoring his (her?) metal best with "eclectic-sauce".