If the quizzical title Phantom Hell and Soar Angelic presents a twist for your brain (do they mean “phantom” as a verb, like you could turn Hell into a ghost of some kind?), then that’s just the beginning of the puzzles Italian trio Void Generator have to offer on their third release. Following a 2004 self-titled EP and 2006’s We Have Found the Space, Phantom Hell and Soar Angelic (Phonosphero Records) is four tracks and well over an hour of anti-gravitational psychedelic rock, the finest attribute of which might be its timing. The Roman four-piece (five if you count Bob the Rich on “accumulation,” which I think means “recording”) have an impeccable sense of when to rock and when to space out.
To wit, the memorable Phantom Hell and Soar Angelic opener, “Message from the Galactic Federation,” which manages to work both a catchy chorus and hyper-extended airy parts into its 15:14 length. My first time through, I waited the full three-plus minutes (not an unreasonable amount of time given the scale of the song) for the vocals to come on and ruin it, but guitarist Gianmarco Iantaffi didn’t disappoint, his delivery maintaining a balance between rough rock and melodic crooning that’s got just enough effects behind it to cut through the guitars, synth, bass and drums. Vocals aside, what sets Void Generator apart from the space rock hordes seems to be their willingness to rein in their jams, to bring them back to the songs, and where many bands seem to plow through their verses and choruses like they’re punching a clock waiting to get to the 10-minute go-nowhere jam – not always a bad thing, mind you – Void Generator remember they’re writing songs here, not just showing off or screwing around. “Message from the Galactic Federation” repeats parts at just the right times, and manages to remain what political pundits call “on point” for its duration. No small achievement.
If the opener sets the bar high, though, the rest of Phantom Hell and Soar Angelic delivers on its promise. The shortest track on the album, a mere 13:04, is “The Morning.” It’s more open-ended feeling than was the opener, but it’s also a show-off point for the rhythm section. Bassist Sonia Caporossi and drummer Marco Cenci (who plays on the latter tracks, while Marco Ricci played on the first) carry most the song, leaving Iantaffi and synth-specialist Cristiano Lodi to add flourishes and contribute to the gradual build, which they do in subtle, confident fashion. Toward the song’s end, Lodi’s work becomes especially apparent, and adds a soft melody to the driving rock behind it in the mix. As a setup for the ostensibly “final” cut, the wonderfully-named 18:12 overture, “The Eternaut,” it works immaculately and with considerable flow.