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Dark As Night, I Geld The Light! - 85%

CHAIRTHROWER, September 24th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2016, Digital, Independent (Amazon)

Skulking amidst shadows since the spawn of its independently digital 2016 debut is the Empire State's Phantom Knight, a ruggedly frank and unambiguous, relatively young trio whose heavy-handed, if not outright coarse, high gain'd/octane'd riffs and sordidly poignant minor keyed melodies create a barren and morose vista fiercely driven by a high-key yet concise and direct front/axe man who's unafraid to expose his sentimental side without reverting to ham-fisted theatrics or uncouth bouts of incessant "YEAH!"-ing. Hence, don't be deterred by its trite, exiguous title - plainly "Invaders" - as its ample thirty-five minutes are so crammed with menacing, brawny riffs and explosive, extravagant leads (in a similarly base, rough n' ready bent as Metallica's Ride the Lightning circa 1984, or maybe even Suicidal Tendencies' How Can I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today? from 1988), you'll be grimly pining for more!

Granted, the initial visual impression is lacking, what with Invaders' laughably ghetto cover design evoking a tacky three-man reproduction of Link - i.e. Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda Part II; that 8-bit artifact from days of Old - as he conclusively battles his cloaked, equally skilled alter ego in the bowels of the Grand Palace (you know, after disposing of that floating Thunderbird freak?). Regardless, Phantom Knight's no joke. Quite the opposite, the Queens juggernaut exudes the same no-nonsense and looming, huff n' puff disposition as the albums referred above - yet with more meat on its (unhallowed) bones - while suggesting a diligent formation, however green, on the cusp of tapping into its full potential and bursting onto the scene for good (kind of how "NWOBHM" inspired dynamo Night Demon punched through the veil last year with its fun-as-Hell sophomore, Darkness Remains, which should reside in every metal head's glove box between here and San Diego).

Which scene, pray tell? Satan knows! For one thing, Phantom Knight's stiff, tenacious sound sufficiently distances it from a "thrash" denotation as the guitar progressions on "The Enemy Within" and closer, as well as integral pièce-de-résistance, "Beyond Life & Death", are too mellifluously stirring, not to mention intricate and emotional, to jam it alongside the likes of Anthrax, Slayer and Testament or, modern era-wise, Game Over and Running Death, for instance. Alternatively, the "new wave of traditional heavy metal" tag doesn't apply either, in light (dark?) of all the glum, melancholic tones/riffing schemes, cantilevered as they are by the drummer's messy and haphazard, though effective, "runaway train" approach, sort of like Grand Funk Railroad's Don Brewer, but desisting from caviar and meths...for real, on first listen my instinct fooled me into thinking this was scruffily - if not hastily - slapped together in a Bronx chop shop way back in '83, around the time Britain's Grim Reaper wildly churned out its respectively maniacal and brash full-length debut in only four, freakin' days. Now, back to what I was sayin'; no energies are spared betwixt the dark knight's twin salvo of heavy artillery tormentors in the opening "Sanctify" and Night-Demon-ish successor, "Visions In The Night". Overall, anticipate jolts of brusquely stimulating heavy metal in one of its simpler, purer - not to mention distilled (and sinister) - incarnations.

Topping things off, the reasonably rueful and despondent lyrics do a great job of setting the overall malefic tone. Unsurprisingly, they're akin to Ride The Lightning's, though without detracting from intrinsically human themes (except of course for the respectably lugubrious and elaborate instrumental "In The Mouth of Madness", surely an ode to Lovecraft's venerable tale of the same name while also a fitting riposte to Metallica's "Call of Chtulu"). Furthermore, the apocalyptic, maniacally expunged vocals on "War", astride fulminating chromatic riff-age and a slew of off-the-cuff, diabolically poised leads (which often resound like the product of not one, but two guitarists), are very reminiscent of Ian Gillan's unhinged, sardonic and "in-your-face" pseudo-rap delivery on singularly strange one-time Black Sabbath wonders such as "Zero the Hero" and "Digital Bitch", both from that ungainly Kurt Cobain favorite, Born Again (released, incidentally, in 1983). Musically, a morbidly heartfelt "The Enemy Within" skirts "The Unforgiven" territory while eschewing stilted melodramatics or, for that matter, inherently commercial overtones. Thus, it's neither restrained nor overblown. Discounting another brief and acoustically funerary instrumental in "Darkness", the six lyrical pieces fit the music like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, sharp and sturdy-like.

Not wanting to sound glib, these individual tracks march to the beat of their own drummer: formulaic repetition is non-existent; fly-by-night solos come and go; verses and refrains loop at will. In the end, there's no telling which path they'll tread. Fortuitously so, as this constitutes a big part of the band's ominously rocking allure. Another thing I duly appreciate is how it took an incredible amount of spins for Invaders' compelling lowbrow novelty to wear thin (not completely "off", mind you). I enjoy it substantially now as I did three Springs ago, if not more. From beginning to end, it crankily gets one going whilst the actual verbiage paints nightmarish vortexes of pain and despair - paradoxically, in the form of re-assuring, all-knowing oaths as opposed to stewing self-pity and negativity. In fact, they resonate so intensely I endeavored to mark it all down (i.e. see lyrics), incrementally and by ear, for fellow "throwers" to glean, if not merrily succumb to. Auspiciously enough, the laconic and wan introductory verse to "Sanctify" aptly acquaints the listener to the gang's throttling brand of hook-laden, expedient doom and gloom: "Fear of humankind/Since the birth of time/Injected in our minds/Disguised as lullabies!...".

Perhaps apocryphally, I steered back towards Phantom Knight out of a subliminal and/or subconscious impulse driven by a faithful rivet head's longing for a timely sophomore of equal brawn and bristle, only to unearth a new single (however pedantically named and touched up, tone wise), "Living on the Edge", which largely brings to mind Dio era Sabbath, namely Heaven And Hell/Mob Rules, as well as a handful of robust covers, one of which is, providentially and of all things, "For Whom The Bell Tolls". While an actual track listing and official release date remain shrouded in mystery, be sure to keep an eye (and ear or two) out for these "Knights of Queens", as it's simply "a matter of time" (he,he!) before they crawl out of their lurk space...