Freddy and the Phantoms – A Universe from Nothing Review

I found myself wondering whether the members of Freddy and the Phantoms who aren’t the eponymous vocalist/keyboardist Frederick (Freddy) Schnoor write down “Phantom at Freddy and the Phantoms” on their resume. The promo material did not answer this pressing question, so I’ll happily assume they do. Also on the resume of any given Phantom is participation in one of 2015’s best rock records: Times of Division. Spinning that record again in preparation to review its second follow-up (we didn’t review 2017’s Decline of the West), I remembered just how much fun earnest rock n’ roll with a heavy edge could be.

The proto-heaviness of blues which informed much of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple emanated from Times of Division in spades, and it informs this year’s A Universe from Nothing as well. This time around, there are more songs but the songs themselves are generally shorter. This is still music that relies on nothing but the songwriting and instrumental skills of the players—you’ve heard this type of stuff before, your dad probably listened to something like it back in the day, and his dad probably thought it was too loud, busy, and aggressive. To make anything truly worth hearing in this style is no mean feat, as there are literally decades of options to pick from.

Once again, Freddy and the Phantoms make themselves worth hearing. Freddy has a great voice for this stuff, with power and vulnerability in equal measures. He can dominate the more aggressive, hard-rockin’ cuts like “First Blood Universe” and “Bermuda Blues” with that bit of nearly-shouted grit that colors the voice of Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey. Thankfully, Freddy never loses the ability to soften his vocals and croon a little when needed. These two cuts along with “River of Hate” showcase the Phantoms at their best too, with driving grooves, a rhythm section with a knack for the subtly danceable, and quality lead work that aims for the tuneful and expressive instead of guitar heroism. “The 11th Guest” channels a slight (very) early Mercyful Fate influence (think “Nuns Have No Fun”) into blues-rock, and even the lead brings the sadly overlooked Denner’s Inferno to mind—it was a cool surprise each time I heard it.

While A Universe from Nothing comes recommended, this recommendation is not unreserved. Beginning the record with two tight and concise songs makes third track “Lilith’s Nightmare” feel downright bloated by comparison, because it stretches about the same amount of ideas for a minute and change longer. The acoustic interlude of “Andromeda Pt. 2” is pretty but superfluous, breaking up the record in a way that could have been better done by the records first quasi-ballad “Loners on the Run,” which itself runs a touch long. Long songs aren’t bad by any stretch, but Freddy and the Phantoms are, as Times of Division showed, experts at jam-packing a short song with meaningful music—no song on that record exceeded four minutes, and yet they fully developed their ideas nonetheless.

Despite the criticisms above, Freddy and the Phantoms create an atmosphere of a live show at a small venue where the audience has no place they would rather be. This music just works, and even the lesser songs aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. The largest detriment to A Universe from Nothing is the blues-rock greatness of Times of Division, an album to which this one pales noticeably in comparison. And yet, that’s fine. Universe has its charms, and to my ears is produced a bit better as well. The drums are loud in a good way, exuding energy when the tempo picks up in the rollicking “Freedom is a Prison.” Bass is always lush and creative but matches the guitar when appropriate—this device makes “Inferno,” already a highlight, sound utterly huge. It’s got a thick and electrifying tone that you can picture coming out of a Fender Precision hooked up to a big, no-frills amp and an overdrive pedal. The guitar is relatively thin but clear, again hooked up to minimal accouterments, letting the player shine instead of the gear. The keys are mixed in expertly, taking the lead sometimes or, as in “First Blood Universe,” adding to the big hook of the chorus.

For those who wore out their copy of Times of Division, Universe has similar quality but in a lesser quantity, despite being a longer record—you’ll like it, but not as much. For those who’ve never heard the band, add 0.5 to the score, turn it up, and enjoy.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Mighty Music
Releases Worldwide: April 24th, 2020

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