The great strength of the post rock/post metal genre lies in it’s malleability. The genre thrives on its ability to incorporate traditionally non rock influences, such as film scores, electronic music, dub, or modern classical, into the traditional rock band set up. Once incorporated, the idea is that these sounds can stretch or transform the traditional ideas of a rock song. A band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor might turn an album into a symphonic piece with the song becoming movements in the piece. Meanwhile Sumac with each album seem to leap further and further into freeform noise. Even a band like Mogwai, who at this point are more of an alternative rock band than post rock, still utilize weird time signatures and aggressive volume in their music. All of these bands still utilize the traditional rock band set up (guitar, bass, drums) but they’re moving the structure of the rock song and album into entirely new territories. Phal:Angst’s new album, Whiteout, however, bills itself as “industrial post rock.”
On the surface, the album sounds like post rock. The band favor atmosphere and mood over traditional song structures. The songs on the album feature winding instrumental passages with shimmering guitars. “Industrial” effects, and we’ll circle back to that, pop up throughout along with the occasional mysterious vocal sample. Much like Mogwai, who are known for lending tunes out for remixes, Phal:Angst have two remixes from Lustmord and Jarboe, standard bearers of experimental music, at the end of the album. It is on paper what a listener might expect of post rock.
All of this though is why this album is so boring. Phal:Angst are an embodiment of the phrase “copy the homework but make it a little different. Everything on this album has been done before and better by others. Yes, bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai have songs that are long and winding. But, their songs actually build towards something. With a band like Godspeed, this build up leads to a cathartic release of the political fury inherent in all of their work. None of the songs on Whiteout ever go anywhere or build towards anything. The songs just sort of hang in the air.
Before someone points out Godspeed You! Black Emperor is an older act, even compared to more recent post rock and post metal bands, Phal:Angst don’t hold up. Bands like Black Country, New Road and Ashenspire clearly take inspiration from the genre but these bands want to take the genre into new and contemporary places. Black Country, New Road, and Ashenspire may echo Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s political fury but they have a sound that fuses the aggression of hardcore punk to weird post rock time signatures and moments of atmosphere. Phal:Angst just seem okay repeating older sounds
The other element of post rock that Phal:Angst seem to not grasp is the transformative one. The band assumes they can put in “industrial” sounds and that’s what makes them distinct. However, these “industrial” elements sound less like Throbbing Gristle or even KMFDM but more like bad Depeche Mode or modern day John Carpenter. These sounds and textures are already rock oriented. Phal:Angst aren’t using these sounds to expand the language rock or metal music but more like a decorative element. It’s rock music on top of rock music. To circle back, it’s how they’re making their homework a little different but here, these changes only bring attention to who they copied.
If Whiteout was a debut, these sins could be forgiven. It’s a band starting out. They’re just finding their sound. Except this is a band five albums and seventeen years into a career. Phal:Angst seem content to coast on their influences without really exploring their sound. This band should stop copying their answers and come up with their own.
– Dan M
Whiteout is available now on Noise Appeal Records. For more information on Phal:Angst, visit their Facebook page.
black country named themselves after the 3rd phal:angst album. think about that.