Review Summary: It won't change the minds of those that hate this kind of stuff, but Death Came Through A Phantom Ship is really hard to beat in the world of symphonic black metal.
Dutch masters of ghost stories and orchestrated black metal Carach Angren have deemed Death Came Through A Phantom Ship
their best work yet, stating that this year’s release builds on the firm foundation found on 2008’s Lammendam
by sharpening the band’s combination of Dimmu Borgir and Emperor influences even further. Hype from bands or labels – no matter the genre – is commonplace in the music business and often does little to service or entice the seasoned music listener into a hype-hopping state of anticipation; in this case, however, given the vast improvement in product from demo The Chase Vault Tragedy
and mini album Ethereal Veiled Existence
to what was heard on last album Lammendam
, I’m willing to throw my initial doubts to the wind and fall for the band’s claims of tighter songwriting, improved instrumentals, and even a better integration of a horror story – something this band seems to exclusively focus on. My premonition for greatness is confirmed; my hope for an excellent 2010 metal release, which actually doesn’t fade in time, does indeed seem to have been made into a reality.
Naysayers and harsh critics of symphonic black metal won’t find much in Death Came Through A Phantom Ship
to change their initial opinions of this sub-genre; however, those that have always fallen for the split duality of orchestrated musical elements and harsh screeches and high-note guitar leads in this breed of metal will surely have a hay day with this album. Seregor (vocals & guitars) delivers once again on this outing with a harsh shriek that’s even produced to an accessible level of clarity so that the album’s concept and story aspects can be followed along during multiple listens to the album. Backing, gruff vocals – some clean; some growled – show up from time to time as well to aid the front man, going as far as to give this release, just like Lammendam
, a metal-opera type of feel throughout its playtime. This theatrical, bombastic quality of the Dutch musicians’ music never does much to transition the band into the realm of the frightening or horrifying emotions - a quality they seem to want with their continued tales of blood, killing, and horror on their releases; if anything, it just sounds like an uplifting, orchestrated play performance that many will find to be friendly and tame - relatively speaking for black metal, that is.
Instrumentally, Carach Angren have tightened up the already impressive product heard on 2008’s Lammendam
. Death Came Through A Phantom Ship
mixes frequent tempo changes, a couple of story-telling interludes, and the customary piano/string effects that would be expected on an album of this nature for the primary sonic foundation for this release. The faster entrances to the songs are indeed faster and more thrilling, and the in-bounds, aggressive sections, often entering after a mournful reprieve, are exhilarating and quite catchy as well. The band has a certain tendency to include melodies and catchy riffs or keyboards here and there – venture to “Bloodstains On The Captain’s Log” for the best melodies this side of Dimmu Borgir - but the Dutch performers are careful to stay away from the confines of verse-chorus, conventional structures, which helps the “horror” story of the album flow more naturally in progression as well.
I’m not convinced that Carach Angren are the kings of horror stories just yet, but they are making a case to be one of the best current bands in symphonic black metal. The instrumentals are intense and varied, and the orchestrated parts never drown out the distortion of the guitars or make the music sound like just an over-produced offshoot of Dimmu Borgir. Instead, the Dutch storytellers mix equal parts Emperor and touches of the former band for an accessible yet respectable release that bleeds of promise for great things to come in the band’s future. I would even go as far as to say that this is the ideal gateway to the world of black metal for those new to the genre, containing many of its defining characteristics, while not scaring hesitant listeners off with abrasive vocals, low-level production, or controversial lyrical topics as well. Are you not a fan of the sub-genre? In that case, you probably won’t like this at all. However, if you are one who happens to fancy a few Dimmu Borgir songs here and there, or likes to jam to the orchestrated antics of Transcending Bizzarre?'s releases, Death Came Through A Phantom Ship
may be one of the first 2010 metal releases that you can label as an “excellent” album.