If you’re left wondering by the title of Phantom Glue‘s second album, A War of Light Cones, exactly how one might wage such a war, the Boston four-piece lead by example on the seven-track collection. They attack swiftly, efficiently, brutally and with crushing effectiveness. A War of Light Cones, which also serves as their label debut on Black Market Activities, follows a similar ethic to their 2009 self-released, self-titled first outing (reissued by Teenage Disco Bloodbath in 2010; review here) in that the newer outing was recorded by Kurt Ballou of Converge and clocks in under 30 minutes — they’re close at about 29 — but more important is the stylistic progression the band has undergone. Front to back, A War of Light Cones feels less concerned with genre than did its predecessor, and though by now the recordings are upwards of two years old, there’s a fresh sensibility to them for the impact both in the tones and the noise-fueled bombast Phantom Glue craft seemingly at will, the hardcore-ish rush that opens centerpiece “Bow in the Dust” given depth by fleet time changes and the kind of tightness and intensity that Ballou has been able to convey in records by High on Fire and Black Cobra over the last couple years. The former act was a specific point of comparison for the self-titled, and that’s something I stand by almost three years to the day after reviewing it, but A War of Light Cones presents a Phantom Glue much more assured of their own sound and direction, and while one can hear elements of post-Mastodonic progressive noodling in the dual guitars of Matt Oates (also vocals) and Mike Gowell in some of the album’s longer cuts — thinking of songs like “Neurolizard” and even brief flourish sections of “Biocult” — but between the insistent push they enact in “Captain Keith Pierce” and the nod-worthy chugging groove to be found buried in the noise of the later “Arboreal,” there’s little left to question that at some point between 2009 and 2011, Phantom Glue started to come into their own in a big way.
Part of that might be the addition of drummer Kyle Rasmussen (ex-Black Thai, Whitey) to the rhythm section alongside bassist Nick Wolf (also vocals), but it’s a growth that pervades every level of the listening experience for A War of Light Cones, so although Rasmussen gives an excellent, creative performance throughout the tracks, able to punctuate the bludgeoning of opener “Perils” just as well as the moodier, slower vibes of closer “Test Pattern,” I’m inclined to attribute it to more than just the personnel shift. And it’s important to remember that this progression is conveyed in a short, short 29 minutes. For that, though, A War of Light Cones doesn’t feel at all incomplete — neither did the self-titled — it just feels lean in a punkish sense not so much fulfilled by the tones of Oates and Gowell or the shouts of Oates and Wolf, but that lies beneath the surface as a stylistic nuance all the same, ready to rear its head when called upon, as on the aforementioned “Captain Keith Pierce,” which when taken with “Perils” directly preceding, makes for a blistering introduction to Phantom Glue‘s ethic this time out: something like “destroy first, leave it to someone else to ask the questions.” So be it. The flashes of airier Akimbo-ism on “Biocult” come packaged with the album’s most blistering solo work, so there’s plenty for anyone so inclined to chew on should it come to that, and for all the to-the-pointery going on, neither does A War of Light Cones feel rushed. The balance suits the band really well, the mix is stellar as harsh vocals slice through overbearing guitar and bass tones and as “Test Pattern” patiently stomp-sways the album to its finish, Phantom Glue sound crucial and cruel, a Melvins influence lurking somewhere in the intensity that’s teased behind a last-minute guitar solo but never really brought to as complete an onslaught as one might expect from the rest of the full-length before it.