Review Summary: An engaging and somber listen, Phendrana’s debut provides a whole range of great songs and moods and invites optimism for the near future.
Phendrana is a one-man band hailing from Mexico City formed by Anuar Salum in 2016. The idea behind this group actually has its roots in another project, Pakistuf. But while Pakistuf was a purely atmospheric black metal band, the best way to describe Phendrana’s sound can be ''atmospheric black metal meets progressive and post metal elements''. This first studio effort does a great and remarkable job in mixing the eerie and somber atmospheres of black metal with substantial melodic and folk elements, progressive song structures and the occasional inclusion of female vocals (courtesy of guest singers Vera Clinco and AraCoelium). Plus, in contrast to the hour-plus runtime on Pakistuf’s Nature
, Phendrana’s Sanctum: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
goes only about thirty-nine minutes, thus making this surprisingly more accessible for everyone, a brief yet impressive and cohesive listening experience.
The band’s ability to expand and transform its sound leads to a cold and haunting soundscape that will grab you from the first listen. The nine-minute opener ''Sanctum'' already showcases some of the album’s virtues, repeatedly shifting tones and tempos while sporting blistering and distorted riffs, accented by brief passages of clean guitar and sweet acoustic melodies. The drums are clear and powerful in the mix, and the strong bass lines provide a solid backbone to all the songs. Lyrically this album revolves around the theme of a ''Sanctum'', an ethereal and sacred place where lost souls find refuge. The concept is divided into seven parts; a description of the Sanctum, three shorter instrumental interludes representing the accession of souls to the sanctuary, two stories about the past lives of Sanctum inhabitants (''Ethereum'' and ''Gjenganger'') and an ode to the night (''Where Ages Meet'').
The author's passion and effort on each of the seven tracks is quite notorious, and the musicianship and diversity present here are pretty astounding, going from some of the darkest and most melancholic melodies the band has ever recorded on ''Ethereum'' (where the presence of female vocals is very welcome) to prog-influenced sections on ''Where Ages Meet'' or the two-minute interlude ''The Bog'', with subtly hooky guitar lines. Menacingly hellish growls and shrieks are present here, and the wider variety of synths and pianos is one of the album’s fortes, as they provide an ominous and palpable atmosphere instead of making the songs sound artificial and plastic. Sanctum: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
shows a confident, brave and focused band throughout its 39 minutes, and once you came across to the heavy, quasi-apocalyptic closing ''Gjenganger'', you’ll notice that this new project is not afraid to show what it is able to offer; there’s no shyness here, making for a very promising debut.
The atmospheric/post black metal sound may have been done to death over the last years. However Phendrana’s labor is far from being generic or soulless and manages to give this album a unique identity; from its classy and dark artwork to its interesting lyrical content, Sanctum: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
is an album whose ideas grant multiple dimensions to the listener, and definitely a consistent, rich and satisfying journey that will attract to anyone with any interest in the more atmospheric strains of black metal. Progressive metal fans may likely find something to appreciate from it as well.