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Review: Photophobia – Humana Fragilitas (2010) - 80%

Midwinter Fires, April 28th, 2012

Photophobia (n. an abnormal sensitivity or intolerance to light.) A description that fits Humana Fragilitas quite well. Photophobia is a depressive black metal band made up of members from Finland, Italy and the U.S.A. Before you go running I must mention that Humana Fragilitas is not one of those poorly produced basement albums you will find strewn throughout countless blogs and social networking sites. Okay, it may have been produced in a basement for all I know and you can certainly find it throughout the web on illegal download sites but the production is actually quite good compared to a lot of depressive black metal bands I’ve heard. There is a slight static noise hiss from the cymbals that sort of hovers over the entire mix but it’s minimal and I don’t find it gets in the way of the music. I’ve heard a lot worse and to the point that you can barely make out the guitars. This album does not have that problem. In fact, I actually found the guitars to come through nicely and to my surprise they were quite melodic and enjoyable.

One of the other typical issues people sometimes have with depressive black metal is the high pitched bark or yelp of the vocals. Once again Photophobia manages to avoid this problem with some pretty decent black metal screams. They’re somewhere between a high growl and a scream. I won’t say they are easy to listen to because they aren’t meant to be. They do, however, portray the emotion of the music very well. The lyrics deal with depression, angst and self destructive behaviour. Let’s put it this way, it’s not an album you would listen to while gardening. Nevertheless the music is pretty decent, filled with melancholic rhythms and melodies of heavily distorted guitars. The drums aren’t extremely fancy but they provide steady rhythms to compliment the guitars. As a whole, I find the songs are catchy and have an enduring quality to them. The music is actually rather pleasant to listen too and in a sad, twisted way it is all quite beautiful.

I decided not to do a track by track review for this album. I figured I’d be repeating myself over and over again. With that being said there are certain tracks that stood out for me including the first track “I Desire You… Wrapped in Plastic“, “When Life Run on Razorblades“, “If My World Ends Without You” and the last track “Stockholm” which is a Lifelover cover.

Right from the start The first track “I Desire You… Wrapped in Plastic” sets the mood for the entire album. It actually starts off pretty doomy with some steady strumming and slow paced drumming. Sort of how Shape of Despair would sound if they were black metal. The vocals are of course the high pitched black metal screams I mentioned earlier. The song transitions between similar sounding arrangements until just before the 5 minute mark when it slows right down as clean vocals seep through over top a lonely guitar melody. It only lasts a few seconds before the song once again picks up and continues on through the melancholy until it reaches its end. It’s all really just a sick and twisted love song.

“When Life Run on Razorblades” just has a really catchy sound to it. It’s the kind of melody that gets stuck in your head. Around 3 and a half minutes in the song settles down to a single guitar playing a nice little melody. The tormented vocals create an atmosphere of angst and contrast nicely with the soft melody of the guitars. Beauty and the beast so to speak. The song picks up with steady strumming of the rhythm guitar and the always catchy drums. The lead adds a sorrowful harmony to round out the arrangement.

“If My World Ends Without You” begins with a melancholic melody accompanied by whispered vocals. Just over a minute in the softness gives way to the heavier guitars and black metal screams. The song has a sort of an epic quality to it at times. Halfway through the song changes pace. A sort of growl whisper carries the song into a dream-like trance as the music begins to pick up pace ever so slightly.

“Stockholm” is a cover of the original song from Lifelover. This song is a little different than any of the other tracks on the album. It’s more about the atmosphere and melody. For the most part the guitars are clean until just over a minute left when they once again find the distortion. The vocals are a mix between the screams and raspy spoken word. It’s a slightly heavier version of the original and I must admit that I prefer Photophobia’s version. (I’m not really a Lifelover fan.)

This kind of music isn’t for everybody. Depressive metal gets a lot of flack and in a lot of cases it is totally justifiable. Unfortunately there are some cases where bands like Photophobia may get over-looked because of their association with the endless flow of lesser bands that give the sub genre a bad name. Musically Humana Fragilitas is a good album full of dreamy guitar driven atmosphere and dark emotion. With that being said it’s not overly innovative and the songs tend to blend together almost like they were created from the same mold. Vocals aside it is an easy album to listen too. If you can accept the vocals or if you are like me and you already like them, this album is one that you will find yourself listening to over and over again. Photophobia’s new album, The Seven States of Mourning will be released by Immortal Frost Productions in 2012.

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