Review Summary: A rebirth that shows much promise for the future
Chimaira are a band that still continue to suprise me. They have gone through so many lineup changes in the past few years that the only original member left is vocalist Mark Hunter and yet each album still manages to be consistent. The Age of Hell
, given how the odds were completely against the band at the time, still came out great and had some memorable tracks despite being recorded with half of the band gone. In addition, Rob Arnold was still lead guitarist, which meant that even though the lineup had changed the bands chief songwriter was still present, which secured hope for the future. Then the final nail in the coffin came when Arnold and fellow guitarist Matt DeVries left the band. Refusing to call it quits, Hunter hired more musicians and rearranged the lineup once more. Despite anger from many fans of the bands former core lineup and loss of faith that there would ever be another good Chimaira album again the new lineup moved forward and recorded Crown of Phantoms
. Once again, the band returns with consistency.
I'll admit I had little to no hope for this album. I respected the fact that Hunter wanted to form a new lineup and forge onward, but I figured the aspects of the bands sound that made past works like the self-titled and Resurrection
such great albums would be gone with Arnold now missing and I didn't believe it would ever be able to stand up to anything they did in the past. I wasn't expecting what I heard when "The Machine" came furiously blasting out of the gates. The blistering drumming, the groove-infested riffage, the keys in the background, and Hunters signature bark were all there. One of the srongest tracks on the record, it proves that the new lineup still capture what Chimaira is all about.
Speaking of the new lineup, just about every new member here fills the shoes of the ones they replace perfectly. New guitar duo Emil Werstler and Matt Szlachta prove to be just as precise as Arnold and Devries were with their thrashy and groove inspired riffs being one of the main driving points of the album. Werstler's performance in particular confuses me though, because while he switches his normal style of melodic death metal riffs that he uses in DAATH into groove and thrash ones to fit the Chimaira sound, I don't believe his skills were used to their full potential on Phantoms
. Maybe it's because he didn't want to overdo it seeing as this is his first Chimaira record, but being the extremely talented guitarist he is he seems way too restrained here and doesn't use his abilites to their fullest extent. Still though, when the spots show up where he does (see "Kings of the Shadow World" and "Love Soaked Death") he rules the fretboard and proves to be one of the best things about the new incarnation of Chimaira.
Elsewhere, new drumer Austin D'Amond and DAATH bassist Jeremy Creamer prove to be a great new rhythm section of the band. D'Amond had possibly the biggest shoes to fill next to Werstler taking over for the exceptional Andols Herrick, but he shows all over Phantoms
that he is more than capable of doing so on tracks like lead single "No Mercy" and "Plastic Wonderland". One of the more excellent choices in the lineup change was to include DAATH vocalist Sean Zatorsky as the new keyboardist. Not only is he an even better fit for the band than Chris Spicuzza, but being a vocalist for a death metal band his backing vocals are more than capable and combine with Hunter's bark perfectly especially on "No Mercy" and "All That's Left Is Blood". On the interlude track "The Transmigration" his work on the keys is most prominent, combining with Werstler's acoustic guitars and somber lead work to create an eerie but beautiful atmosphere.
Mark Hunter is one of the more unique vocalists in metal, and his performances across the Chimaira discography have shown him steadily improving with each release. On Phantoms
, he sounds just as pissed off as ever, and while he doesnt particulary try anything new compared to previous releases he still gives it his all in a solid performance. One thing that should be mentioned though is that his clean vocals, which have been used sparingly and at the right moments on previous Chimaira releases, are barely on this album apart from album closer "Love Soaked Death". Sadly, on the track in question they feel very out of place and almost ruin the song. On tracks like "Salvation" and "Beyond The Grave" in the past his cleans were placed well, but given the heavier overall atmosphere of Phantoms
they just don't seem necessary and on "Love Soaked Death" they feel like they are there just for the sake of being there.
Given the drastic lineup changes and the complete reinvention of the band, Chimaira still manage to come out swinging on Crown of Phantoms
. While variation is a huge problem with this album the band still sound focused and inspired, an aspect that was lacking at certain points on both The Infection
and The Age of Hell
. Even though Emil Werstler's talents aren't used to their full potential and Rob Arnold is sorely missed with his ear for hooks and groove riffs the new lineup have still managed to craft a solid album that shows off much of the bands style and shows much promise for the future. A pleasant suprise indeed.