PHRENELITH – Chimaera (2021)REVIEW

A great smoking mountain serves as oppressive she-beast of crude antiquity, its maw a colossal pyre fed by wet-smoking gore and shredded bramble in conjure of blood-curdling surrealistic death-atmospheric nox. When deeply inhaled by all faunae unto nauseated and hysteric fear, the source of their frenzy is in fact heightened awareness of the keenly sentient, multifariously equipped beasts gathering to set flag and banner in feigned personal conquer of her titanic dormancy. With no eruption in sight and no beast arisen from the shadow of the smoke the imagined “many-headed” monstrosity is lost upon modern man as parable for the conquered primate self, the great doom from the forest tamed and the physical embodiment of the deceptive forces of rawest nature denied. Fire-breathing serpentine, lion maned and goat-hooved abomination are not primal mythic designs but collected ambitions of the destroyer, adaptations of the great apes in conquer. ‘Chimaera‘ is a primal act, a step back into the cavernous and terrifying atmosphere of the age of unconquered minds and less a ramping up beyond Copenhagen, Denmark-based quartet Phrenelith‘s past achievements than it is an impressive revision unto fuming revelation.

Though they’d been introduced to me through a split with Spectral Voice, when both bands were still in their pre-debut LP hype frenzy, Phrenelith have always struck me with similar cosmic circles but different spheres of classicist death metal style fitting in best with the new breed of atmospheric death metal that’d arisen just beyond the era of what many had taken to calling “caverncore”, a trend of intentional murk, grittiness, and/or atmospheric production values presented with great love for Pillard-era Incantation. Groups like Swallowed and Krypts would begin to elevate the cult traditional death metal artform away from the on-the-nose ‘Onward to Golgotha’ wavelength that’d been so pervasive at the time, pushing that sound unto the very edge of esoteric death/doom metal territory in the mid-to-late 2010’s. The early notes on Phrenelith in approach of their debut full-length (‘Desolate Endscape‘, 2017) were mixed in terms of their approach representing both familiar aspects of caverncore, primarily sound design, and their own unique utilization of said atmospheric death metal sound — A feat neither fully evolved nor explicitly throwback. In fact I’d bought that first record that year primarily because I couldn’t seem to make sense of it in preview, the first impression was somewhat shapeless, droning in a pleasant way but selective in committing to bigger riffs. From my perspective all of this is entirely virtuous trait, having been a huge fan of bands like Cruciamentum and Dead Congregation for years and finding most all of Phrenelith‘s material matching that level of insidious, dread-amplifying totem.

Enter with no expectations and attempt to lose your mind, let the jaw hang and the neck slack into full zombification and allow this trance to emit unperturbed by thought or focus. Hell, it took about five full listens of ‘Chimaera‘ ’til it hit me and I figure it’d been due to paying far too close attention to its meandering statement rather than letting the slow burn of it all surround and encase. I’d expected as much after some considerable time spent appreciating ‘Desolate Endscape‘ and knew that the full listen would appreciate over time but there is no gigantic, foaming at the mouth brutality pushing the process of discovery along. Much of the club-drummed Finndeath-roaring (read: guttural belching) subterranean crawl that’d characterized the debut and the EP (‘Ornamented Dead Eyes‘, 2018) beyond seems to have eased for the sake of a more deliberate set of songs, the whole of which more or less matches the ~half hour runtime of the previous record.

Some of this perceived differentiation admittedly comes by way of the clarity afforded by the Earhammer Studios render, lending Phrenelith a balanced, bottom-heavy dynamic a la Vastum without losing the atmospheric dread characteristic to all of the band’s releases. This’ll be most apparent when directly comparing the 2017 versions of some of these songs (see: ‘Chimaerian Offspring‘, 2017) particularly with consideration for the now two-part “Chimaerian Offspring” being largely transformed. Honestly none of this necessarily grabbed me by the throat and got me listening to start. I’d jammed with ‘Chimaera‘ and let it ripen not for fealty to this incredible year for Killtown-adjacent releases and whatever change occurred within their action but, well, because it sounded and looked (thanks to Timo Ketola, R.I.P.) like a Krypts record. The ‘Remnants of Expansion‘-esque drone and pluck of “Phlegethon” giving way unto the colossal, blasted horror of “Gorgonhead” became the collective first revelation on my part and this’d be the pair of pieces that sold me on the album.

In an attempt to make up for the reveal of my reptile record store-pickin’ album art lovin’ brain, why not dump the big reveal right here — Phrenelith‘s second album is one of the best death metal releases of the year, and I only feel confident saying that because I’d gotten to spend two months with it prior to release. Point made, then, this one might need a bit of time to seep within but it only grows in resonance within the time invested. Do you need a play by play of the action on this one? Nah, the gist of it is that the songwriters, particularly the guitarists, have harnessed a deeply introspective shard of mind in construction of these fluid-dynamic barbarisms, easing on their mid-90’s fueled note-heavy excesses for the sake of an enormous sense of motion unto dread. Like dense black smoke pouring from a freshly dried skull, the incense of a tormented soul spiraling in the air, ‘Chimaera‘ is the edge of collapsing reality ridden throughout. Er, it is a tuneful yet atmospheric death metal record that’ll still impress folks seeking riffs and well-conceived/constructed feats of classicist-yet-evolved death music. The experience is decidedly that of doom magick, an arcane and murderous darkness that we’ve gotten very little of in terms of quality this year over and this reads in my mind as a great elevation beyond the callous charm of ‘Desolate Endscape‘. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (88/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Nuclear Winter Records
RELEASE DATE:December 10th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Death Metal,
Atmospheric Death Metal

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