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Grutle Kjellson and Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved are but yet two more black metal legends that started out their careers playing death metal. Their original band, Phobia played a dark, dingy brand of doom-death metal, similar in style to very early My Dying Bride. The band also contained drummer Hein Frode Hansen, who would go on to have success with the gothic doom metal band Theatre of Tragedy. The only relic from Phobia is the demo Feverish Convulsions. Though brief—three songs totaling fifteen minutes—it is a fairly effective piece of doom-death. (All the more amazing when you consider the age of the musicians. Ivar was merely 14 years old at the time of the recording!)
The mix is not ideal, but it is adequate. The guitars are a little far back in the mix and don’t have as strong of a punch as they should. Grutle’s deep, burly death growl is more forward in the mix, but is also somewhat muddled. Only the keys which fade in and out of the compositions possess much clarity. Still, everything is audible and it is not a struggle to make out what is going on.
The riffs are of two kinds: there are slower, murky riffs and tight, punching tremolo passages. The band does a good job of shifting between ominous stretches of doom and more out and out attacking portions. The slower passages have good horror movie style riffs that deviously creep toward the listener like a hungry snake. The songwriting is unpredictable, with each song containing a lot of transitions and shifts in tempo, mood and intensity. Consequently, these actually have some staying power and reward multiple listens.
Feverish Convulsions is a solid piece of doom-death that demonstrates that Grutle and Ivar had some solid songwriting skills even at a young age. Had Phobia continued, they could have been an original addition to the doom-death movement of the early 90s. However, Grutle, Ivar and Hein all went on to accomplish bigger and better things in other groups. Still, if compared to first demos of other black metal legends, Feverish Convulsions is a respectable effort.
The main members of Enslaved played death metal instead of black metal in their early days, which wasn’t uncommon for many second wave black metal bands. The boys of Enslaved were very young at the time, but they played with heart and enough skill required in making a song worth anyone’s time. The three tracks here would become their only recorded material as the band Phobia, but let it not be disregarded as something without value.
I had a feeling that Grutle was capable of more than just screeches and screams like he was doing in Enslaved, and this demo shows all his capabilities. These growls are malevolent by the very breath of each exhale – carnivorous, throaty, and demonic. The lyrics aren’t comprehendible, though that’ll be the least of your worries, especially in the second song where the diabolically crushing riff is accompanied by his vocals closing in for the kill. One thing I forget is that the production for this is very quiet, although clear once you have the volume up to identify what’s going on.
There’s a ghostly atmosphere present with this demo and the otherworldly tone that lingers exists because of Bjørnson’s contributions with the synths. Other bands choose gimmicky roles for their keys, but Bjørnson is strictly using them to dab those eerie notes to chill your spin and cause the hairs on your neck to stand. While that’s going on, the guitars are hammering away with relentless thickness – overwhelming, fat, and barbaric with a deep reverberating boom probably because of the bass. You get to hear the bass individually alongside the guitars most of the time, but the booms are all over the place and will eclipse your speakers deafeningly.
The drumming is consistent but largely forgettable because of how every other instrument is loud and thick. The drums in comparison are frail and hushed, so all the attention is focused on the riffs, vocals, and atmosphere. The drum bass is hilarious though since it sounds like someone’s hitting a pillow with a baseball bat – figure in the blast beats and now someone’s hitting the pillow repeatedly with a baseball bat.
Phobia’s strongpoints are the riffs and the atmosphere specifically – you’ll definitely feel like you’re tuning in to hear a vintage recording of some unspeakable horror. The legitimacy of the music is backed by strong songwriting, too, and the track lengths don’t do justice to how long these songs actually feel like when you’re listening to them. I highly doubt anyone will be able to obtain the actual cassette nowadays, but thankfully there are downloads online where you can access this and hear it for yourself.