Album Title: Philosophobia
Label: Sensory Records
Date of Release: 24 June 2022
For all of my new-found love of some more extreme styles of metal, I will always gravitate back to the progressive metal scene, because it is one of my favourite, and most enduring styles of music, particularly the more ‘classic’ melodic end of the spectrum. It feels, though, as if the pool is getting ever smaller, with less and less new music coming through. This may be an illusion, but that’s how it seems to me. But today, I’m pleased to be able to bring a review of a debut album by a new band that has tapped into the style that I like so much.
The band’s name is Philosophobia, and they first materialised back in 2007 when Andreas Ballnus (Paul Dianno) and Alex Landenburg (Kamelot, Cyrha, Mekong Delta), who had been friends for some time, met up to write and record some new music to accompany a concept that Andreas had written, a prog metal concept to be more precise. Unfortunately, as the press release informs us, existing priorities for the duo meant that this project would have to be put on hold for the intervening years. After a coincidental meeting with Kristoffer Gildenlöw some years later, and his subsequently joining the band, Philosophobia was back in action with added impetus. Rounded out by keyboardist Tobias Weißgerber and Wastefall vocalist Domenik Papaemmanouil, the line-up was finally complete, and the band could bring their music to fruition.
I’ll be honest from the outset and say that this self-titled debut was not love at first listen. But then, neither were many of my favourite albums within this genre, to be fair. It has been a slow burn, but with each passing listen, I have found myself enjoying more and more about this record. In fact, I really like ‘Philosophobia’ now.
Before I get to all of the positives, I must mention that the production. It’s clear, and it isn’t bad per se, it’s just that for my tastes, I’d have preferred it if the music had a little bit more grunt to it. I feel like the guitars, in particular, are robbed just a touch of the impact and muscle that they could have had if the bottom end had been favoured a little more than it has. I also have to query whether a little more judicious editing might have been in order here. I understand that no fewer than six of the songs on this record are the originals from the 2007 writing sessions, and so this might be a factor, with the band very protective over the music that has been sitting patiently in the wings for a decade and a half. But ‘Philosophobia’ feels just a little bloated at times; for a prog metal album, 54 minutes or so isn’t that long, but it feels a bit longer than it is if truth be told.
However (and it’s a big however), all of this fades into the background once you get to grips with this album. It begins in strong fashion with ‘Thorn In Your Pride’, a nine-minute affair that opens with a cinematic intro, dramatic in tone, with a vaguely Middle Eastern voice singing with increasing passion until receding to be replaced by a powerful, catchy, and groovy prog riff, accented by an equally powerful and crisp rhythm section. I wish the riffs bit more, but they remain impactful, as do the synths. From there, the composition takes a number of twists and turns, but they are all as memorable as each other. The voice of Domenik Papaemmanouil doesn’t enter until the end of the fourth minute, when the heaviness recedes in place of some gentle, but rich and welcoming melodies. As you might expect from a prog composition, there is plenty of instrumental prowess, but it’s also mixed with some aggressive semi-growls which lend a more modern twist. The section at around the seven-and-a-half-minute mark is where you’ll find my favourite part of the song, such is the beauty of the melody and the accompanying soaring vocals.
It’s a brave move to open up a debut album with two songs that together account for eighteen minutes of the album, but ‘I Am’ follows the opener and is nearly as long, albeit with a different vibe to it. The riff that introduces it is a classic prog stomper, that’s muscular but also littered with great technique and embellishments that make it impossible for me to describe succinctly. But the energy that feeds through the music is palpable. The change of direction is all the starker because it’s a detour into quiet, lush melodic territory, led by a lovely lead guitar line and complimented by tinkling pianos. There’s even a brief foray into more of a heavy power/speed metal direction where drums and bass gallop off. I detect a Threshold/Damian Wilson vibe in some of the vocals within one of the biggest ‘growers’ on the album.
‘Time To Breathe’ is an interesting track, with plenty of light and shade, going from quiet and introspective, to pronounced explosions of emotion and power. This is one of those tracks that would have benefitted from that beefier sound I referred to earlier, but it’s still an enjoyable affair. ‘Between The Pines’ is a sensational track to follow though. Dominated by keys and vocals, it’s a brooding and emotional ballad like track with poignant melodies throughout topped off superbly by an evocative lead guitar solo.
‘As Light Ceased To Exist’ benefits from some of the most immediate melodies on offer throughout ‘Philosophobia’ as well as a stunning intro where keyboardist Tobias Weißgerber adds depth and gravitas via some lovely orchestration alongside the piano. Dare I suggest a slight Shadow Gallery vibe to the song? Yes, I think I do, even though these vibes are fleeting and oblique to say the least, but most heard within the extended instrumental workout at the heart of the song.
Realising that I’m in danger of turning this into a song-by-song, blow-by-blow review, I’ll just mention one of the final three compositions. And that song is entitled ‘Voices Unheard’. The other two tracks have plenty to offer, which you will be able to discover if this review has sufficiently piqued your interest. However, ‘Voices Unheard’ is my undoubted favourite of the closing trio. From the opening aggression created by a forceful riff that has hints of latter-day Symphony X to it, to easily the most insidiously catchy chorus on the album, this is a belting composition. Sitting here now, it’s bizarre to think that I didn’t rate it much to begin with, but isn’t that the beauty of prog sometimes? The best bit of the song though, is undoubtedly the quieter passage at its heart where you get to hear some stunning keys, bass, and guitar, before the song builds again and we’re slapped around the chops by a glorious lead guitar solo. The spoken-word samples that emerge at the death are the icing on the cake.
There you have it. Yes, it could have had a production better suited to my personal taste, but if we remove that from the equation, you’re left with a really rather wonderful collection of progressive metal songs. The music may not resonate fully with you right from the start, but I guarantee that if you give it some time and proper attention, there’s too much quality here for it not to have an impact upon you. Philosophobia have, with their debut album, positioned themselves in a very strong position to quickly become one of the most talked about new bands within the progressive metal sphere. And rightly so, too. If you like prog, checking this out is a genuine no-brainer.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
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