Review Summary: "Whatever genre YOU classify them as, Within The Ruins should be in the top tier."
Coming off of a pretty good, yet slightly underwhelming release in "Elite", I was curious at what Within The Ruins was going to release next. It has only been a little over a year and a half since that release, and it shows in the way of the two bearing some similarities. This is not necessarily a BAD thing, but it does not really show any growth or improvement. Nevertheless, Phenomena makes for a very enjoyable record.
From the very beginning in "Gods Amongst Men", to the very end of the album, the vocals of Tim Goergen are just great. The first track begins with these powerful vocals. What makes the vocals so prominent is how well the screams and growls are layered throughout the entirety of the album. I really liked the next song, "The Other", for a few reasons. It opens with a much groovier sound that allows it to stand out against its predecessor, and the tempo changes in the song were positioned really well. I also liked the guitar solo at the end of the song, not so much for the solo itself, but how the instrumentation around it was structured. Most of their solos always occur coupled with a firestorm of drumming, but everything around the solo slowed down just a little bit toward the end of the song, which really added to the solo's effectiveness. Throughout the album, the band tried to create somewhat of an atmosphere, as is apparent in "Calling Card". An eerie background can be heard that sounds electronically produced, but knowing the way Joe Cocchi can utilize a guitar it may just be him. Either way, it really adds to the ending of the song, as it fades out. Some of the songs also have neat concepts, such as "Ronin" and "Hegira". The latter of the two could be possibly about multiple things, such as the literal definition of the word (a journey especially when undertaken to escape from a dangerous or undesirable situation: exodus), the 1979 science fiction novel by Greg Bear with the same name of "Hegira", or it could be about neither. Either way, this kind of depth continually makes the listener think. A "Ronin", on the other hand, is an ancient Japanese term for a samurai with no lord or master. He became masterless from the death or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master's favor or privilege. Samurais are known as being some of the fiercest warriors in history, and the instrumentation of the song showcases that fury all the way through, especially through Tim's breakdown chants at the end. The song also had a neat opening that reminded me of something I may hear from After The Burial. The last high point I will highlight is my personal favorite song on the album, "Eternal Shore". The layered screams really set the tone from the opening second, and the choruses are just so powerful, as they really let Goergen's vocal prowess shine.
Phenomena did not really have much to complain about other than nitpicking. Things such as misplaced background sounds in "Hegira" and "Gods Amongst Men", with the latter being the worst offender. In the very beginning, and in other parts throughout the song, the sound of what appears to be someone playing a Mario game on N64 in the background can be heard. It really takes away from the song, which would have been fine without it. "Hegira"'s problem was not near as bad. It only had a background noise too similar to the one in "Calling Card", which made the two sort of blend together instead of standing out on their own. "Dark Monarch" could have done without the first 70 seconds or so of the opening because it just made me want to skip ahead to the actual beginning of the song. This album features two instrumental tracks in "Enigma" and of course "Ataxia III". I never really have found any use for Within The Ruins' instrumentals simply due to the fact that the instrumentation during the rest of the songs showcases everything they have to offer pretty well to begin with. These are just minor details based on personal preference, and they really don't do enough bad to be concerned with.
Within The Ruins is one of the best at what they do, and we know what to expect after four albums. Powerful vocals, coupled with furious blastbeats, and molded together with an almost perfect combination of aggression and technicality from the guitars. Since there are so many more positives than negatives about it, it is obvious that the album is good, but something is holding me back from giving it the elusive 5.0 rating. I have always felt that this band has the potential to do so much more. Since we always know what to expect from a Within The Ruins record, it would be nice for a few surprises next time. Even though not much has changed from their last album, Phenomena still deserves a solid rating because it is still a solid album.