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Friday, August 2, 2013

Album Review: Chimaira – Crown Of Phantoms

At the forefront of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, lurking between the spasming core of Lamb Of God and the thundering grooves of Machine Head, Chimaira have forged a network of paths, rarely stopping to settle too long on one signature sound. Sure, they’re long-time fans of the skull-crushing breakdown but their knack for integrating genres has meant their career in music has been one long progression. In 2011, the band and the fans, already rocked by the departure of Chris Spicuzza and Andols Herrick, had to deal with the bombshell of losing guitarists Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries. That hit fans pretty hard with many rebelling to cries of “R.I.P. Chimaira”. Two years down the line, however, and they’re back to operating at full power with Matt Szlachta (Dirge Within), Austin D’Amond (Bleed the Sky) and, well, half of Dååth stepping in to plug the gaps.

Now, someone wiser than me once said “He who rejects change is the architect of decay” so, let’s look on the bright side here. Chimaira have clearly viewed this all as an opportunity to properly toy with their sound once more and have shifted to one with a more industrial edge. Break it down and the catalyst here has undoubtedly been Sean Zatorsky who has taken on the task of handling the electronics, ambient supplements and additional vocals. If he’s not a fan of Fear Factory’s new album, I’ll eat my hat. There’s also the welding of Emil Werstler’s chaotic leads onto Szlachta’s mathy groove and you begin to realise just how potent this new line-up really can be.

Take opening track “The Machine”, with the line “The time has come to reboot the machine”. Oh, yes, they mean business and this chugs, clanks and groans like some vast factory of pistons operating at full bore. D’Amond’s drums are immense with ballistic double-kick and skins stretched to the point you’d swear he’d used botox on them. Everything else up top is set to chug and batter you to death, but they haven’t forgotten how to write big in all this either. Bursting with musicality and almighty singalong choruses, “No Mercy”, “Plastic Wonderland” and the title-track all have enough pomp and power in them to flatten any venue.

There’s also curios like the bleak monster “Love Soaked Death”, the thrashy “Spineless” and the subterranean “I Despise” to consider. The latter has a dark, multi-faceted mathematical quality about it all. Borrowing from others it fuses elements like slow vocal whoops and piercing string slides with djent’s arrhythmic bottom line to create something truly menacing. Vocalist Mark Hunter’s obsession with firearms takes another step forward too with “All That’s Left Is Blood” refining his point down to the chilling line “Feel the cold steel on the back of your head, one click and it’s over”.

If this wasn’t Chimaira, a band who actually understand the concept of a two-sided vinyl, then “The Transmigration”, with its chanting, clanging atmospherics, classical strings, keys and eventual noise disintegration, would be a track one banker. However, instead of being a throwaway (oh so passé) instrumental intro, it’s the perfect mood-piece that creates space mid-album, allowing its listeners a moment to breathe, dividing it up into bite-sized chunks. As a bonus, it provides the perfect set up for the monstrous vitriol and muscle of that title-track.

The one problem with Crown Of Phantoms is not the concept of a stylistic overhaul, but the fact that their “machine” feels like it may have malfunctioned before the “reboot” could be completed. After setting things up with that opener, they only really pay lip service to the concept itself, choosing to integrate it completely into the groove elements. A more concerted effort might well have eradicated the fillers and might have provided opportunity to nail an album with even more diversity. Fear not, though, this new line-up has done an immense job of giving Chimaira a truly gritty quality. Consequently, Crown Of Phantoms is still going to cut and nick you throughout and will leave you with a strong metallic taste on your tongue.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/08/chimaira-crown-of-phantoms-long-branch-records-spv/
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