These are good times for pissed-off political grind.
And there are few better purveyors of such than SoCal’s erstwhile Phobia.
Now in their twenty-seventh year, Phobia still bashes heads with the best of them, their blend of crust punk and grindcore filled to the bursting point with rage. With only vocalist Shane McLachlan as a constant through that nearly three decade run, Phobia circa 2017 is an all-star assortment of previous members, a Frankenstein’s monster of Phobias past, dug up and sewn back together for maximum ferocity. Longtime guitarist (and sometime bassist) Bruce Reeves returns on guitar; Intronaut drummer Danny Walker finds his way back behind the kit; one-time bassist and Impaled mainstay Leon del Muerte rejoins on second guitar, and bassist Calum McKenzie remains from Phobia’s most recent line-ups.
None of that changes the band’s approach, of course – Phobia does what Phobia does. But this new line-up does fuel Lifeless God with a fire above and beyond the band’s last few,and those were records that were ragers in their own right. Maybe it’s the timing, the inspiration of world gone seemingly mad; maybe it’s the company, the comfort of old friends with a shared vision. Either way, Lifeless God takes the template that Phobia has been working within for a good while now and beats it to a bloody pulp, bashing it senseless in the best possible way with riff after blast after scream after blast after riff.
It’s rare that an album hits its best stride in the center, but as good as Lifeless God is throughout, it really picks up steam after a few tracks settle in. “Out From The Ashes” sets an almost epic opening, with its cut-up newscast soundbites and a killer riff out of the gate. McLachlan alternates between a chest-bursting Barney-like bellow and the high-pitched screams, and the Reeves-del Muerte collective cycles through some absolute rippers. But starting with the tongue-in-cheek power-violence of “Fuck Power Violence,” through the blazing “Intimidator” (which is likely not about Dale Earnhardt), to the surprisingly catchy moodiness of “Devotion” – well, that’s just damned near perfect grinding. Pile it up against the Napalm-y goodness of “Human Default = Suck At Life” and the melodic d-beat-grind of “Everything’s Vicious,” and… well, that’s just REALLY damned near perfect…
Lifeless God doesn’t let up there, or anywhere at all, ever. It’s a thirty-one-minute exercise in killer grinding, top to bottom, with stand-out performances by all parties. Grindcore is all about the visceral, the vicious, the violent, and all of that is here in spades, but in grindcore as in life, what separates the good from the great is the memory left behind. Musicians, critics, listeners – they all talk about hooks, about that part of the song that keeps us all coming back, the most important thing, be it a riff or a beat or a lyric or a melody… Lifeless God’s hooks aren’t exactly blatant (save that chanted refrain of “Devotion,” which is stellar), but they’re very much there, and they strike quickly and deeply.
Twenty-seven years in, and almost as many line-ups, and this one delivers the goods as well as Phobia ever has. Lifeless God feels like the culmination thusfar of the band’s aesthetic, very likely the greatest crust-grinder they’ve released, and an absolute beast of a disc that anyone with a taste for grindcore should absolutely love.
These are times for good pissed-off political grind.
released June 2, 2017 on Willowtip Records