The Smashing Skull Sessions

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Phantom Winter - Her Cold Materials

Out of the ashes that once was a burning fire called Omega Massif arose winter, Phantom Winter to be specific (another great band arose that you have to check: Cranial) and the year was 2014. In the years that followed, the albums Cvlt (2015), Sundown Pleasures (2016) and Into Dark Science (2018) saw the pitch black dark of night. With their style of winterdoom, as they selfnamed their music, they made quite an impact and thanks to intensive touring, where I saw them playing at Roadburn and Soulcrusher festival, they expanded their fanbase steadily. And rightfully so.

Now, after more than five years, finally there’s a new album with the title Her Cold Materials which is released through This Charming Man Records. HCM is a coming of age concept album dealing with a girl growing up in this, well shall we say somewhat complex life and world? The concept worked out in the seven songs and is based on the novel cycle His Dark Materials by writer Philip Pullman.

For the readers that are not familiar yet with Phantom Winter’s music and thus with the term winterdoom, one should expect a unique, intense and dark ice cold mix of blackened sludge, doom, post-metal and beyond that. There are two singers that grawl and shriek their lungs out, lifting eachother up to intense highs and pulling eachother down to emotional lows. On the three previous albums this resulted in some beautifully extreme music. Let’s dive into the new album to see what it’s songs have to offer us.

Opener Flamethrowers starts with a three minutes heavy doom part where a church bell chimes in the background until the point where the pace in drums, riffs and vocals move up a notch. Then everything comes to a halt and for a second there’s silence. Slowly some guitar noises break the silence again and then begins something that is going to recur more often on the album: a sudden unorthodox drum pattern and pace that transitions the song into a new and different mood and phase. With this song, that means the fast drumfills are accompanied more and more by vocals, instrumentation and sampling, building up to a massive flamethrower explosion as an end.

The tone is set for this album in these first nine minutes and Her Wound is Grave also starts relatively slow and builts with grunting and shrieking vocals battling with eachother. Then the pace errupts again with a frantic fast and creepy guitar (somewhat reminding of Wiegedood’s FN Scar 16) for a shortwhile until everything breaks down again and a long intense build up follows with spoken word vocals. From there the song goes into new territory again where the drumming is going in all directions, making you believe there are two drummers, and the bass and one guitar producing a wall of sound while the other guitar keeps repeating just one note for minutes until the bitter end.

As you can read after the first two tracks there’s so much going on that it’s hard to describe in detail. My analysis is far from complete. This has to be heard and felt to be understood.
When I Throw Up turns out a personal favourite. The main reason for that are those totally different impressive emotional clean vocals. There are so many layers of emotions in the tone and intensity of them that really resonate with my soul. And they can only shine thanks to the subtle harsh vocals underneath them. This shows how creative these musicians are in perfecting their art. There’s no light without darkness. The music shifts again from soft melodic to heavy intense, perfectly fitting the deep lyrics. And when at the end those clean vocals come bursting out of the background into the wide open with the words “Some hope is left, i don’t know why, but maybe… it doesn’t matter if we all die” I can’t hold back no more and I just scream along! In Shadow Barricade, the drumming takes another unexpected side path leading to new destinations that have a certain Amenra vibe to them.

Dark Lanterns contains a part of spoken words that gives a movie feeling, followed by a part of the grunting vocals and after that a shrieking part. Then the drumming starts to do it’s own thing again, preluding a climax where all vocals come together with female vocals added as well. Very moving. With The Unbeholden the end of the album is reached, but it’s never over until the fat lady sings, because this is yet another top-notch song full of layers, built ups and climaxes. Those diverse vocals again, spoken word samples, walls of sound, off the rails drumming, and finally an acoustic guitar that oozes the album to a finish.

What an adventure this album is. It’s extreme, it’s cold, it’s resonating, it’s bombastic, it’s emotive, it’s atmospheric. It’s complete. The coming of age folk-horror concept that is the thread through the album is woven into the titles, lyrics, music and even in every detail of the artwork that is so beautifully done by singer Christian Krank himself. I can honestly say I think this is the best and musically mature album Phantom Winter created thus far. And I was already a fan of their previous albums. A sincere AOTY contender in my book.