From the ashes of Omega Massif a heavier, darker, and more evil creature is born. Only one year after their former band’s halt, Andreas Schmittfull and Christof Rath return with a new project, Phantom Winter. Those familiar with Schmittfull former band, will know the artist’s great ability in weave intricate and compelling atmospheres onto instrumental tracks. Some of you might also remember Omega Massif’s tendency to privilege dark(er) ambiences when composing their soundtracks. The Germans had a talent in enchanting listeners by immersing them in a intricate soundtrack of dark and glorious instrumental atmospheres and crescendos. All those elements are still audible on Phantom Winter’s debut, CVLT, where Schmittfull and Co. also make several new additions: some successful, others not so much.
RELEASE DATE: 24 April 2015 LABEL: Golden Antenna Records
Before listening to this record, absolutely get into the proper mindset. Imagine a winter landscape, but not any kind of landscape. Forget the purity of candid snow on trees and rooftops, the beauty of geometrically perfect snow crystals, and the warmth of a hot tea in front of a fireplace. Here there’s no warmth. Period. CVLT is lifeless cold. Throughout its five tracks the album showcases a freezing-cold brand of sludge metal with clear black metal influences, and a keen sense for everything dark and grim. Yes, in a way this is the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic flick. Zombie outbreak, nuclear meltdown, global infertility, you pick your treat. What’s important is that you imagine the darkest, bleakest, and most uncomfortable place on Earth. Schmittfull and Co. want to take you there: a God-forsaken winter landscape where no sun, no warmth, and no hope can alleviate your pains. Enter this album with that precise mindset.
In this lifeless and freezing glacial era, Phantom Winter haunt the listener, exposing your most secret and inner fears. Omega Massif’s typical brand of dark and compelling atmospheric instrumental tracks still remains unchanged, however, with the addition of new members, Phantom Winter is able to distance itself far enough from its decomposing predecessor to stand by itself as a separate reality. The music has gotten heavier, more robust, the atmosphere even darker and gloomier. Every instrument has its place in creating this oppressive soundtrack of doom, human fallacy and hopes lost.
The guitar-work on CVLT is definitely worthy of particular appreciation. The sonic storylines written by Schmittfull give the record an extremely personal character, that help Phantom Winter distinguish themselves amongst the abundance of other sludge/post-metal projects. Similarly, the production work is majorly responsible for creating CVLT’s suffocating atmosphere. Muddy yet clearly discernible, chaotic yet hardly ever all over the place, the production masterly calibres the instruments, and enables the record to express its bleak and dark massage to the fullest.
The vocals are the deal breaker on CVLT. You either love them or hate them, no in-between. You’ll either think they add an otherworldly character to an already sinister soundtrack, or you’ll resent them for preventing you to enjoy an amazing instrumental metal record. Either way, the vocals with their feral and haunting tone, undoubtedly add up to the record glacial feeling. Always if you can get over their grating and intrusive tone first. Whoever appreciates metal, especially in its various extreme subgenres, generally possesses a fondness, or (at least some form of) endurance for screamed, growled, shouted, squealed, shrieked, vocals as long as they sound genuine. As a rule of thumb, vocals should fit with the music and never obstruct the flow of the record. Throughout the “CVLT experience” the vocals shift from being at first surprising, then monotonous, and ultimately forgettable. It comes as unsurprising then that Finster Wald, the only majorly instrumental track, resonates as the most compelling on the record.
Starting as a drone piece, the song slowly builds into an Omega Massif-esque atmospheric sludge, with the same ghostly, sinister character of much of the record. What works best is the track’s memorable mix of rugged riffs on a drone-y base that culminate in dramatic explosive crescendos. The vocals come in last, adding that element of surprise that makes the track even more captivating. However, it is only an isolated case, as for most of the record, vocals and guitar-work clash with, rather than accompany, one another. Thanks to Schmittfull and Rath’s expertise, Phantom Winter craft an album that is rotten to its very core but still manages to sound fresh. However, it is the band’s unwillingness to compromise between all-things-heavy and cohesiveness that eventually prevents this album from unleashing its true potential. There’s the sense often that these five songs were written more as an experiment “in heaviness”, just to see how heavy and grim they could possibly get.
CVLT is not easily accessible. As the name suggests, time and dedication will be demanded from listeners to be initiated to this new experience. If you plan to approach this album you’ll need patience, and more so, a keen interest towards this kind of music. If you’re patient enough however, CVLT will reward you. If not for its music, for the satisfaction of having gone through it all and survived to recount that. Approach at your own risk, just don’t say I didn’t warn you.