Having been previously unfamiliar with Montreal’s Phobocosm, I found the band’s second album, Bringer of Drought, to be a challenging listen. Phobocosm has a unique approach to death metal. The band is very heavy, oppressively so, in fact, and very long-winded. One could classify Phobocosm as doom/death, but make no mistake, this band is nowhere near the headbanging good time of a band like Asphyx. With four songs in 35 minutes, Bringer of Drought is a tough slog to get through, and I suspect that is entirely intentional.
“Engulfing Dust” opens the album innocuously enough, beginning with a simple and unaccompanied clean guitar figure that serves as the song’s main and essentially only theme. Two minutes in, the full band enters, and things get louder and heavier. A minute or so later, the Sepulchral growls of bassist/vocalist E. B. join the mix. Over the course of the song, the main theme is fleshed out by some complimentary figures, but that simple musical phrase and the general flow of the song remain essentially unchanged for around seven minutes, before a long fade-out. It feels less like a proper song and more like an intro; a bloated, overly long intro. In a way it sets the tone perfectly for the album. This is less an album and more a trial.
While “Engulfing Dust” was a long tease, “Tidal Scourge” wastes no time getting down to business. Beginning with an onslaught of grinding, vaguely dissonant tremolo riffs, this track brings to mind Immolation, an association only strengthened by bassist/frontman E. B.’s Dolan-like vocal cadence and the general aura of sullenness that infects not only this song, but the entire album. Phobocosm, in fact, makes Immolation sound upbeat. “Engulfing Dust” is as turbulent and tempestuous as its title would suggest, and it proves that when Phobocosm decides to play proper death metal, it is quite good at it, but even so, there is a penance to pay, as the track eventually devolves into leaden dirge that closes out the song’s final four minutes.
With “Ordeal”, the shortest track on Bringer of Drought, Phobocosm kicks it into high gear for some respectably punishing bursts of fury. As usual these bursts are balanced with heaps of doom, but where “Tidal Scourge” grew ponderous, this track’s pervasive atmosphere of menace maintains momentum throughout the slower sections.
“Fallen” is the big finale, and by big I mean almost twelve minutes long. By now you probably know there is only one way this album is going to end. True to form, Phobocosm bares its fangs early with a tidal surge of violence that is almost hypnotic in its cresting and crashing. Again, true to form, “Fallen” eventually lumbers off into doom territory, but remains surprisingly intense despite the slackening tempo. The hammer comes down hard, but there is a regal grace to the way Phobocosm brings this track and Bringer of Drought as a whole to a close. There are somber threads of melody woven through the track’s final minutes that ease the listener from devastation to desolation.
Without access to printed lyrics, it is difficult to say whether Bringer of Drought is a proper concept album. However, this album certainly does not feel like a collection of four separate songs, but rather a single work with four movements. It is without a doubt a unique listening experience and one that is difficult to assess. If Phobocosm’s aim was to create a sprawling, oppressively heavy work of atmospheric death metal, then the band has succeeded spectacularly. Whether Bringer of Drought is an enjoyable listen is another matter entirely and one each listener will have to determine for his or herself. If you’re in it for the riffs, this one probably isn’t for you, but if you can give yourself over to Phobocosm’s brutally bleak musical vision, well, it won’t be fun, but it will be an experience unlike any other in death metal.