Phantom-X - Storm riders 3.5/5

Reviewed: 5-18-07





Tracklist:

1. Storm riders (chapter 5)
2. Join the revolution
3. Everspell (chapter 6)
4. Texas death squad
5. A dark divinity
6. Day of the first dawn
7. Ancient anthem
8. Black sails
9. Dance among the graves
10. 13th hour (chapter 7)
11. Road killer


Hailing from the great state of Texas, true/traditional metallers Phantom-X made a splash with their debut CD, 'Rise of the phantom', which was released and reviewed in these pages in 2005. Although nothing earth-shattering or genre-defining, 'Rise of the phantom' was a stout, solid, enjoyable slab of molten U.S. metal, 80s style, delivered with buckets of enthusiasm and professionalism. After a European tour with Anvil and others, as well as a string of dates in which 3/4 of Phantom-X played out with the legendary Kenny Powell as Omen, including a truly spellbinding performance at Minneapolis Mayhem 3 in August 2006, Phantom-X strike back with their sophomore platter, 'Storm riders', on Mausoleum Records.

Honestly, not much has changed this time around. For staunchly traditional metalheads like this writer, however, that's a good thing. Phantom-X continue to specialize in punchy 4-5 minute songs of varying speeds, marked by quality songwriting and metal-to-the-bone attitude. Singer Kevin Goocher will never be recognized as a jaw-dropping talent, but competently spits his vocal lines with grit and attitude a la David Wayne or Jon Oliva. The guitar lines of Eric Knudson (now ex-Phantom-X, if I understand correctly) may not be flashy, but they more than compensate in terms of crunch and memorability, pure U.S. metal all the way. Most of the songs are anthemic, headbanging tunes, with a high degree of memorability and easily distinguishable from one another. Particularly noteworthy is the single-ready "Everspell", coming across as a heavier Dio track, with a killer chorus that the metal legions would love, if only they heard it. Also props go out to the hugely entertaining "Texas death squad", an uptempo number with killer lyrics about bounty hunters chasing a wanted gunfighter through the desert sands of Texas - this is the song that Blackie Lawless wishes "Blind in Texas" could be. "A dark divinity" is a more epic tune, plodding along moodily for the first few minutes before bursting into a gallop near the end a la "Heaven and hell". And "Black sails" is a homerun, spinning a seafaring yarn of piracy and plunder. Yarrrr.

That's not to say that Phantom-X have taken no risks on 'Storm riders'. In that regard, track 7, "Ancient anthem", surprised me so much that it nearly knocked me out of my chair when it wafted out of my stereo speakers. This song is a full-fledged medieval, folky ballad, like those found on mid-period Rhapsody or recent Blind Guardian CDs, complete with a fun mandolin solo. Just when I was ready to jettison this track as a failed experiment, I realized that this song is actually a duet between Goocher and his father, Chuck Goocher, with lyrics about ancient kings and songs passed down from father to son. Viewed in that light, "Ancient anthem" is actually a very cool song, and I give Phantom-X credit for daring to take a chance with something outside their normal stylistic confines.

In sum, fans of powerful, stripped-down authentic U.S. metal would be well-advised to check out 'Storm riders'. There is only a narrow niche audience for this style, but Phantom-X do it well and have delivered a worthy follow-up to their debut. On the strength of 'Storm riders', they richly deserve their coveted slot at the April 2008 Keep It True festival in Germany. If the metal gods smile on me, I have every intention of being there to cheer them on.



KIT




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