Phantom Glue run through a chaotic gamut of modern heavy on their third album, 776, but come out of it with a cohesion and stylistic fluidity that is very clearly their own. Released on CD through Negative Fun Records and engineered and mixed by Alec Rodriguez at New Alliance, the Boston four-piece’s latest comprises seven tracks of bombast-fueled heft, marked out by dense tonality, rhythmic tension, the harsh vocals of guitarist Matt Oates and bassist Nicholas Wolf and a snare sound from Kyle Rasmussen (since replaced by Dana Filloon) that recalls Hull‘s 2011 swansong, Beyond the Lightless Sky, in its impact, and lead work from guitarist Mike Gowell that seems to add spaciousness to what can otherwise become a claustrophobic thrust. To wit, the opening salvo of “Ion Cloud” and “Hundred Hand” find Phantom Glue launching at full pummel with two tracks under four-minutes, finding a space between Old Man Gloom‘s still-cerebral cacophony and Celtic Frost via High on Fire-style thrash.
It’s a genuine release when “Hundred Hand” moves into its solo section, even if Rasmussen keeps the bounce steady on drums until the riff starts in with Voivod-ish bends and oddity-worship. Freneticism is nothing new for Phantom Glue, as their 2013 second album, A War of Light Cones (review here), and their 2009 self-titled debut (review here), set forth, it’s a crucial element to what they do. What 776 brings to this form — aside from a conceptual lyrical foundation painting impressions of the American present from 1,200 years in the past (and some untold number in the future at the end) — is a progressive flow front to back that demonstrates the maturity that the band has come by honestly during their time together and the consciousness underlying the onslaught, which at times feels inescapable.
A Voivod vibe continues into “Somatic,” with Oates and Gowell playing off each other with dissonant notes and odd-timed riffing that seems to be a challenge Wolf and Rasmussen are only too ready to take on, but the pacing is slower, and the vocals bring to mind some of the drawling growls of Beastwars frontman Matt Hyde, almost completely indecipherable to the point of becoming another instrumental impression more than a lyrical one. As Gowell tears into a spacious lead behind, Oates‘ shouts add to the atmosphere and largesse of the track, so that while slower, it maintains the intensity of the first two cuts and leads smoothly into “A Worker-less Mill,” the centerpiece of 776 and maybe a little bit what it’s all about.
Here’s what I mean: At five minutes long, “A Worker-less Mill” is essentially one linear build working in multiple stages. The fact, however, is that Phantom Glue — all four of ’em — pull this off with such tension that by the time they move from the chugging first part to the thudding second, you feel like your head is about to explode. It’s the band using the right tool at the right time, and when they move into the payoff riff, a breakdown chug complemented by low wash of keys or effects or I don’t even know what, there’s a real sense of catharsis. The riff fades, but the surrounding noise stays and holds court for the last minute or so, Phantom Glue still harsh with feedback when providing listeners a moment of relative respite.
The 7:13 “Suttungr” recalls the Beastwars-style sludge of “Somatic,” but with a more patient attack in its first half and a heft that seems to be as much about the lumbering rhythm as about the ambience surrounding. It grows more intense in the second half, churning and thrashing through an instrumental section that leads to an extended guitar solo, but they bring “Suttungr” back to its chorus and more grueling plod smoothly to finish out, setting up a stark contrast with “Hocheim’s War,” which essentially strips down and reverses the tempo structure, so that it starts of faster and more avant/prog-metal and hits the brakes as it moves into its second half. Unsurprisingly, the end result is shorter — they spend more time playing fast; that will happen — but still satisfying, both on its own and in context with “Suttungr” before it, giving a sense of Phantom Glue‘s purposefulness to what can at points feel like noise for its own sake.
They save the doom for last as closer “Gog is Dead” begins with a dirge somewhere between a grandfather clock and warped guitar. More likely the latter, but you never know. It’s never quite as simple as a roll, but “Gog is Dead” makes its way toward the crash and stomp of its second half, the feeling of providing 776 as a whole with its payoff is palpable. They carry that forward — huge, open at last, marked by interplay of clear notes and obscure guitar wash — until they pass the six-minute mark, and then suddenly cut, as though the future just ended. Phantom Glue have never been an outwardly accessible band. They’ve never been about hooks, or trying to make their sound friendly, or anything like that. What they’ve done instead is to build a progressive sludge metal that, while constructed from familiar elements, has been shaped into something unrecognizable from where it started. That is no minor accomplishment, and neither is this record.