Phantom: Betraying The Martyrs Need To Give Up The Ghost Already
It’s customary, in a negative review, to make concessions. There are very few metal albums even these days that don’t deserve some sort of acknowledgement, that don’t occasionally write a sickly pop chorus that gets my heartstrings guiltily thrumming. But Phantom, Betraying the Martyrs’s 2014 release and second full-length, affords no pleasure, guilty or otherwise, and it deserves no concessions. Phantom is excruciatingly bad, the kind of bad that engenders shame for the artist who made it. Not only does Phantom fail to produce a single memorable idea or song, but it doesn’t even try to rip off original or interesting tropes, instead recycling leftover scraps in amateur organizations.
Really, you hear all you need to hear when Phantom opens with “Jigsaw.” Those four minutes slip and slide around until you’ve fully gathered the limited scope of the album – pseudo-technicality, major keys and pandering clean vocals, breakdowns more gratuitous than GTA killing sprees. Phantom drips with plugin sounds and reeks of the “Dj”-word. Like the title track, the whole album is composed of ill-fitting puzzle pieces crammed together in an approximate design – songs, riffs, and fills, no room for flow or structure. Rhythmic scraps and confused-sounding lead lines bounce around from track to track; the band can’t write a good transition to save their lives (“Let It Go” is truly exceptional).
It’s pretty hard to tell whether you should chalk up these errors solely to compositional blunder, or whether they’re also a casualty of Phantom‘s production. The production singlehandedly annihilates any appeal the album could have, drawing attention away from the music and towards itself, a supercompressed attention whore. Phantom feels like it’s full of mistakes, but not in the organics of the playing – only in the minutiae of production. They’re the kinds of mistakes that would never have resulted had producer Nicolas Delestrade not tried to shoehorn the music into such a tinny, cramped mix. Obviously punched-in guitars scream for attention in every single track; the hyper-quantized breaks in “Lighthouse” are so heavily clipped they’ll be impossible to replicate live.
Usually, bands pass this shit off by cramming their tracks full of cool riffs (see: Veil of Maya). Right when they start to bore you, some off-kilter harmonic minor arpeggiation swoops in and reclaims attention. Not the case for Betraying The Martyrs. Listening to their riffs on the new album is strangely familiar, like watching new Simpsons episodes. It’s as if they’re simply gluing together the discarded grooves they collected in warm-up over the last three weeks. BTM don’t even appear to know how to recognize a cool riff – as soon as something sounds like it might develop, the band stifles its growth with a timely breakdown or abrupt synth passage. Despite the band’s Sumeriancore associations, technical skill on Phantom is scant. When “tech” does make an appearance, it’s forced-sounding, like the demented, herky-jerky syncopation of “Walk Away.” There are barely solos, just garbled tremolo riffs and bottom-string genericisms. Emotionless keys mush over the top of everything like some overly clingy gastropod.
The thing that kills Phantom is its total lack of direction. Bands like I See Stars may suck, but they know their audience – BTM are caught in a awkward matrix of metalcore, djent, and deathcore. Phantom‘s focus on replicating all these different types of cliches dilutes every ounce of the album’s potential heaviness…especially when you hear the tracks forced-fed through a digital meat grinder. Having wasted multiple hours on this drivel makes me want to bleach my headphones, computer, and eardrums. The sole saving grace for this band? They’re still not the absolute worst out there. At least by closing with “atmospheric” beats, Betraying the Martyrs bring us full circle – it’s a sloppy, bandwagon attempt to take a piece out of someone else’s puzzle, and that’s just how Phantom started off. Hey, closure found.
Betraying the Martyrs’ Phantom comes out today on Sumerian Records. You can listen to the track “Jigsaw” here. Talk to Google it if you really want to buy it.