Nine Circles ov… Phil Swanson

Phil Swanson
Phil Swanson

In light of the recent and fantastic self-titled debut from Sumerlands, which Phil Swanson (vocals) is a member of, I revisited some of my favorite projects he has been and is involved in. Since hearing Hour Of 13 for the first time I’ve had a fondness for his vintage and classically powerful vocal sound. It speaks to a time when metal wasn’t about being the fastest or most guttural. And of course every band he’s been associated with has a tie to doom metal of the occult persuasion and they are all great in their own rite. For this Nine Circles ov... I’m highlighting Hour Of 13, Seamount and Vestal Claret. Barely scratching the surface for sure, but there’s only nine picks and these nine were tough to whittle down.

Phil Swanson has been involved with so many projects, guest spots and sessions that this list would be five times this size in order to highlight it all. He has such a presence on everything he’s done and consistently challenges his own range to find the perfect tone to fit the moment of whatever band he is performing with. When you reach the playlist at the bottom of this post it won’t take long to hear the common thread of his involvement in these three bands. As mentioned earlier, if you somehow missed out on Sumerlands you’ll want to rectify that sooner rather than later (full review and stream here). Without further ado, the Nine Circles ov… Phil Swanson…

Hour Of 13 – “Grim Reality” (from Hour Of 13, 2007)

Hour Of 13 was the first I’d heard of Phil Swanson and consequently I ralllied to find everything I could that he was involved with in the wake of this release. When this self titled album was released it was exactly what I was looking for, back to basics simplicity in showstopping heavy riffs with a great singer. It was doom metal but it had this classic, raw edge to it that was a breath of fresh air amongst the — at the time — craze of overproduced albums.

Seamount – “Torch Of Doom” (from NTODRM, 2008)

Almost immediately after Hour Of 13 released their debut, Seamount released theirs as well. And again it was doom inspired but this time leaned hard on the NWOBHM style with a nod to classic rock. High flying solos and instantly catchy songwriting made Seamount a little more accessible than Hour Of 13. Within the span of a few months Swanson was involved in two strong debuts that still sit amongst my all time favorites. His voice is a little cleaner on “Torch Of Doom” and still just as powerful as anything he’d ever done.

Hour Of 13 – “The Correlation” (from Hour Of 13, 2007)

“The Correlation” gave Swanson a chance to showcase his range, going from spoken word to evil wails he has no problem at all evoking the occult feeling the band conveys. And the minimalistic approach of riffs and drums really gave him a chance to shine. But make no mistake, even though minimal in approach this track features some of the sharpest rythyms Hour Of 13 has ever done.

Vestal Claret – “The Cult of the Vestal Claret” (from The Cult of Vestal Claret, 2014)

Vestal Claret retained the dark and sinister feel of Swanson’s other projects but did it with a much heavier melodic sense and even a touch of psychedelia. As such his vocals followed suit, it’s as if Ozzy did a power metal track while taking downers with a liter of whiskey. The strict galloping marriage of drums and guitars gives this track an epic and expansive feel but the Mercyful Fate style solo work steals the show.

Seamount – “Honey Flower” (from Light II Truth, 2009)

“Honey Flower” is a song I’ve always referred to as ‘the Danzig track’. Swanson keeps a low speaking volume throughout and the band plays at a slow, methodical pace. The first minute or so reminds me of the spaghetti western approach of “Killer Wolf” from Lucifuge. Needless to say it’s another addictive and thoroughly enjoyable addition to the Seamount catalog.

Hour Of 13 – “Naked Star” (from The Ritualist, 2010)

The Ritualist was the second full length from Hour Of 13 and Swanson had worked on several other projects by this time that obviously bled their way into the heart of this album. The traditional metal and guitar centered rock sound was more pronounced but particularly so on “Naked Star”. A searing lead riff opens it up then falls into a mesmerizing rythym for the remainder. But the most notable change is the classic metal solo work. And as per usual Swanson is on top of his game, loud and crystal clear.

Seamount – “Stardust” (from Sacrifice, 2010)

Sacrifice was a bit of an anomaly for Seamount. Mostly because it was the farthest away from anything the band had done and consequently that Swanson had done. “Stardust” is a hard charging rager from start to finish that more closely resembles Iron Maiden, particularly with the bass work, than it does anything doom related. Honestly it was a great one-off departure from Swanson’s and Seamount’s normal doom metal. It’s full of energy and full of classic heavy metal to make this one an easy favorite. And mostly due to the chances they took to be different from their norm and to try something new. To say that it worked is an understatement as the band absolutely ruled on this track.

Hour Of 13 – “Allowance Of Sin” (from Hour Of 13, 2007)

Back to the comfort zone of Hour Of 13. “Allowance Of Sin” is probably one of the most simply structured tracks of this band’s career but is no doubt one of the catchiest. The fret work in this song is nothing short of amazing and the chord progressions have always reminded me of Sad Wings Of Destiny era KK Downing. Plus, Swanson hits some of the highest and longest notes that he’d ever done. There’s a reason this debut will forever stand as one of my favorites and the variety of subtle influences combined with Swanson’s flawless vocal approach definitely make the case for it.

Seamount – “Nitro Jesus” (from Nitro Jesus, 2015)

The title track off of Seamount’s most recent album Nitro Jesus is a lesson in feedback and doom rock at its finest. The way the guitars seem as big as the Sahara desert then to add a solo when you least expect it is something Seamount do with ease here. It’s expansive in a Kyuss kind of way but still holds true to the heavy doom the band is known for. Again, Swanson is the anchor, soaring over the crunchy guitars and lead filled drums. After the epic power metalesque approach of Sacrifice and the lackluster IV Earthmother, Nitro Jesus was exactly the album Seamount needed to return to the doom, gloom and ass kicking they did so well early on in their career.

– Josh

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