Phantomsmasher (Ipecac)

Sep 11, 2002 at 4:00 am
James Plotkin has earned his reputation as an innovative, brutal guitarist/bassist through his genre-bending work with Old Lady Drivers, Flux, Death Ambient and Khanate, as well as numerous solo projects. Phantomsmasher, a continuation of his Atomsmasher über-power trio, showcases not only his dazzling talent as a musician but his formidable skills as a producer of intelligent heavy music. Played at high volume in a small apartment, Phantomsmasher is a stultifying assault on the senses, causing both nosebleeds and heat lightning. But if you're willing to put in the earplugs and ratchet the volume up to superhuman levels, Phantomsmasher rends open the tensile barrier between this world of flesh and the world of Japanese science-fiction ghosts.

Through a pair of decent headphones, Plotkin's compositions -- a death-jazz amalgam of blast-beat double-kick drumming, thrash-metal riffing and heavy dub/prog bass -- become a kaleidoscopic backdrop for a teeming panorama of spectral sounds and shapes. "Scrolling Sideways" lopes out of the gate with a cyclotronic bass riff that rides David Witte's hi-hat crash wave, only to be mowed down by a flurry of Plotkin's treble-shredding guitar scree and inhumanly fast double-bass-drum fury. Stray voices, invoked by DJ Speedranch, burble up through the carnage, splatter across both channels and go silent. Ringing harmonics drift through the slaughter and dissipate. Paper-thin layers of sonics are folded over and over one another until they form a densely compacted monolith that opens unexpectedly to reveal vistas of space. Here, in these fleeting pockets, Plotkin reveals the skeletal mechanics of his music. Ethereal waves of drone and chime hang weightless in time, propping up the colossal beast. Then Phantomsmasher snaps its jaws shut on these delicate skeins of ectoplasm and resumes its charge toward noisy free-metal chaos. Or maybe that's just tinnitus creeping up on you, but who cares? Phantomsmasher's submerged world of beauty becomes ever more enticing as its volume drowns out the dull gray world of the living.