Binah hope to align themselves with well-loved death metal bands like Morbus Chron and Horrendous who have spliced psychedelia into the classic death metal sound. It’s at once progressive and regressive, hearkening back to the genre’s early ’90s heyday while venturing far outside of the footprint of a typical death metal band. And while these Englishmen are not quite so adventurous as either of those touchstone bands, Phobiate still wraps itself around unexpected corners combining Swedish heft and a sprinkle of Finnish eccentricity. The “progressive Swedeath” realm is so empty as to be almost effortlessly conquered, but if Phobiate has anything to tell us as listeners, it’s that there’s good reason for that dearth.
Phobiate puts its best foot forward with the twelve minute “The Silent Static,” by far the album’s most progressive and ambitious composition. The song explores myriad riffs across several tempos and cleverly introduces Binah‘s guitar tone, straight out of Left Hand Path. These guitars hit like a ton of bricks if each brick was made of razor wire, and when “The Silent Static” isn’t engaging in witchcraft – and also sometimes when it is – it’s pummeling you with them. The song’s dynamic intro, outro, and extended bridge are the album’s most powerful set-pieces, and the intervening riffs support that intensity, never relenting in their oppression. despite the song’s length, it still feels alive and buzzing with power – not to mention distortion – and suggests that, if Binah can pull this off, Phobiate‘s shorter cuts will be just as good.
But the power of that Stockholm guitar tone both defines and damages Phobiate. On one hand, the band’s contortions of Swedeath make Phobiate one of the most musically adventurous albums ever to dime an amplifier or stomp an HM-2. Twisting and cinematic riffs rely on a sideways melodic language, but when these syllables are all screamed, the effect is, perversely, muted. It takes concentration at times to hear the progressive writing within Binah‘s Entombed worship. To make matters worse, the album’s ambitions taper quickly after “The Silent Static,” and a few late-album cuts are straightforward Swedeath without much of interest going on in them. Powerful as “The Silent Static” was, these songs can’t live up to it and I found myself having an exceptionally difficult time connecting to them or even listening to the record after the first half.
Riffs that don’t fit the mold and interesting songwriting ideas pop up with some regularity across Phobiate, but they’re all so much more forgettable than anything from “The Silent Static” that much of the album seems like a footnote to that song, and not a particularly enlightening one1. Dramatic snarls spill across the songs and sell some of the psychedelic atmosphere Binah seem to be going for, but with the band so committed to the Swedeath aesthetic, there’s not much sonic room for their ideas.
Phobiate has a lot to offer those who have a soft spot for the Stockholm sound, but can’t live up to the expectations it sets for itself. Most of Binah‘s best ideas are compressed together into a few interesting songs and a lot of Phobiate feels like many other Swedeath releases. But it fails as a Swedeath album because its progressive tendencies dilute any headbanging riffs, just as it fails as a progressive album because of its overbearing sound. It doesn’t have to be this way, but successfully combining dimed-out HM-2 guitar tone with progressive writing is a tall order, and Binah don’t quite know how to cook it. After all, there’s a reason why Swedeath’s crust punk influences work so well: when volume and distortion are king, you want to let them reign free, and that means presenting them in a simple rhythmic and melodic context, one which Binah strain against. Perhaps in a few more albums, the band will figure out how to successfully meld their influences into music that, even before being more than a sum of its parts, at least doesn’t pit its components so diametrically against each other.