The silent dark fantasy film The Phantom Carriage, made in Sweden in 1921, was an inspiration to artists from around the world mesmerized by its haunting imagery (legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman is one of them), so it was only a matter of time before a group of musicians with similarly dark and ominous sonic sensibilities would adopt the title as their own. That band is a French extreme-metal quintet (formerly named A Mere Understatement), comprised of vocalist Tieu, guitarists Max Renaud & Antoine Villard, bassist Yann Suraud and drummer Simon Libaud, whose 2011 debut album album New Thing was a surreal, challenging blend of moody black metal and blistering mosh-manic hardcore. Their follow-up album Falls, which drops next Tuesday, takes the terror to a whole new level.
I'm a huge fan of black metal in its many incarnations, and unlike many of the “true faithful” I'm totally open to the many ways this sinister style of metal can be integrated with everything from cinema-sized orchestra to bluesy hard rock and old-school thrash. I'm not as familiar with the lesser-known hybrid of “blackened hardcore,” but playing by a fairly loose set of rules, I'd probably include bands like Hierophant, Early Graves, or Celeste in that category. Phantom Carriage also cite experimental black metallers Deathspell Omega (from their own home base of Poitiers, France) as one of their influences, and bands don't get much more extreme than that enigmatic bunch. Phantom Carriage is not quite as terrorizing in their approach (although they do know how to bring the scares... more on that below), which is free of the usual satanic trappings and over-the-top presentation... but then again, extreme metal pioneers Today is the Day didn't go in for that routine, and their music is about as frightening as it gets.
Dark industrial noise atmospheres usher in the opening track "Today We Stand,” which gets right down to the business of monolithic low chords, shifting time signatures and tornado blastbeats before shifting into a more open picking style. It's an odd fit against the rhythmic blur of buzzing double-kicks, and when they throw down some hefty stacked riffs at the song's climax, it comes down like a punch in the head. By comparison, "Dreamers Will Never Stop Dreaming" is a more balanced blend of waltz-tempo black metal dirge and a hardcore wall-of-sound that builds and thickens until it's hard to tell where Tieu's vocal screams end and the flurry of mid-range guitars begin. Another well-executed blend of moody melody and roaring punk rage comes in "About Being A Father,” a polyrhythmic pit beater with a more snarling, angsty edge and some eerie descending riffs, resulting in one of the scariest tracks on the album.
Of course, it wouldn't be proper hardcore without a solid breakdown or two, and we get a massive helping of that and more in the awesome final cut "Devils, Gods, Us,” in which about half the song is a buildup to a skull-crushing climax, with a sick overcast of gothic gloom thanks to some smooth, burning chords that sweep in at around the two-minute mark, dissolving into harmonics and a droning bass, black-mass chanting and Tieu's most chilling, demonic vocals before it all explodes into a storm of reverb-soaked mayhem. It's a terrifying way to close out an already unsettling album, so listen at your own risk...