I’ll admit, I usually associate certain countries with distinct sounds, especially when it comes to doom metal. The dreariness of British doom sounds miles apart from their Swedish counterparts, and American doom sounds just as removed from the aforementioned. Hell, here in America, you can usually tell from a band’s musical make-up just which city they’ve come from. What I’m getting at here is that, besides Type O Negative, I can’t think off the top of my head another doom metal band from New York State. Brooklyn’s Kings Destroy are hoping their fourth album, Fantasma Nera, will change all that, as the band’s been constantly changing and morphing with each album, and according to their one-sheet supplied with the promo, they’ve tried various new ideas to bring forth a more dynamic, moody album.
As a result, Fantasma Nera is a mixed bag. Opener “The Nightbird” comes closest to doom metal territory, and is easily the standout on the entire album. After a somewhat bar-band-sounding opening section, the main riff of the song wouldn’t be too far out of place on a Saint Vitus album, aided by a powerful rhythm section. But what makes the song soar lies in the smokey voice of Stephen Murphy, whose croon and howl bring the music to life, turning the riffs by guitarists Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski into an impressive opener. Elsewhere, the title track and “Barbarossa” hint of moody, doomy greatness, with Murphy’s soulful howl elevating them to powerful heights.
Sadly, those are the first three songs on the album, and everything begins to fall apart after “Barbarossa” finishes up. “Seven Billion Drones” veers too close to The White Stripes‘ territory, even sounding a little bit like “Seven Nation Army” at parts, which doesn’t suit the band at all. And as the album progresses, the band sounds less energetic, and more like a band throwing ideas at a wall, with hopes that something will stick and leave its mark. Only closer “Stormy Times” tries to inject some much-needed heft, but comes too late in the album to make an impact. Murphy’s vocal performances also throw some wrenches into the mix. When he stays in his mid-range, his voice is powerful and soul-stirring. When he climbs above that area, however, like near the end of “Dead Before” and the final verse of “Unmake It,” he sounds thin, strained, and nasally.
Further hindering Fantasma Nera, the David Bottrill mix feels flat at points. Aaron Bumpus’ bass barely makes itself present, with only one section in “Stormy Times” giving him any sort of a spotlight, and the guitars, while thick and distorted, don’t have that power that’s normally associated with either doom or hard rock. But even with a pristine, heavy-as-fuck production, the songs just aren’t there. Other than the opening trio, I didn’t find myself excited to return to any of the other seven songs, and I’ve been listening to this album for the better part of a week.
Which is not to say that Kings Destroy don’t possess any promise, as “The Nightbird” showcases just how heavy and powerful their music can be when they focus and tighten themselves up songwriting-wise. Perhaps on the next one, they’ll make that ascent to heavier, drearier heights, and really put New York on the map for quality doom-influenced hard rock. I’ll be patiently (and cautiously) waiting.