Philosophobia – Philosophobia Review

Philosophobia: fear of the study of knowledge, right or wrong, values—an idea so very counter to the typical academic prog attitude, yet it also plays right into certain stagnant streams of progressive metal. Philosophobia does not question or push the boundaries of the question “what is prog?” Instead, it wholeheartedly embraces older ideas, leaning into the namesake phobia to make the past the present definition. No doubt conceived in earnest, this international crew of talented musicians has finally emerged with their debut outing, long after guitarist Andreas Ballnus (Perzonal War) and drummer Alex Landenburg (Mekong Delta) first conceived these ideas over a decade ago. For many a Pain of Salvation fan1, hearing that Kristoffer Gildenlöw lent his bass talents to the cause was enough of a promise of sweet, sweet ear candy to sign up. They said good things come to those who wait, but I’m afraid that saying doesn’t hold true here.

Like many prog projects, this album sounds great on paper. This cast of musicians from all around the world (well, Europe at least), has collected their talents for a near one hour excursion of tricky rhythms, virtuoso instrumental breaks, and theatrical vocal gymnastics. Thick guitar scale-run riffs define the heavier tracks, not unlike a mid-period Dream Theater. And similarly to the Petrucci-led prog titans, Philosophobia has a tendency toward longer format songs, though none quite break the 10 minute mark. They do take some cues, in that regard, from bands that more frequently lean on craftily executed melodies in traditional song structures like Threshold or Pagan’s Mind, with the former’s former vocalist Damian Wilson providing a guest spot on “Time to Breathe.” Despite the guest inclusions and pedigree of the performers, the individual parts don’t come together in a way that brings about the same level of acclaim as their influences.

The underlying problem with this album—and many less than successful progressive albums—is that Philosophobia often develops riffs and melodies that are fine in isolation but do not lead to a greater whole. The instrumental track “Thirteen Years of Silence” feels particularly offensive in this regard. For a moment it almost functions as a mid-album overture recalling a couple themes from other tracks, that is until it abruptly stops, drops to silence, and then whips a new unrelated outro. Similarly, Philosophobia opens on a wandering note, with “Thorn in Your Pride” introducing us to four minutes of righteous riffing and beautiful synth warbling that leads to… a verse-chorus structure that recalls none of what happened before. Other longer format songs (“As I Am,” “As Light Ceased to Exist”) revel in soaring outro choruses seemingly for the sake of also tacking a bridge beforehand with a fantastic solo break. Philosophobia‘s choppy decisions have me watching the clock more than tapping to go back.

I want to like Domenik Papaemmanouil’s (Wastefall) voice more than I do; he sings with a lot of conviction. As it stands, though, he lands somewhere between the chiseled histrionics of Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation) and the over-reaching bombast of Geoff Tate (Operation: Mindcrime, ex-Queensrÿche). However, Papaemmanouil does not possess the same finesse as either when stretching his range. On tracks like “Thorn in Your Pride” and “Voices Unheard,” Papaemmanouil teases us with a gravel-tossed verse that builds character, character that shatters in the midst of his uncontrolled nasal breaks on the front-and-center choruses. Frustratingly, Philosophobia closes with “Within My Open Eyes” a softer track that opens with a beautiful cello melody and gentle vocals, but this softness too fades under the same poor choices with a range that Papaemmanouil cannot present in a manner that matches the music.

Undoubtedly, many fans of progressive music will look past some of the faults presented on Philosophobia, the bones are solid. Neither an arpeggio run, nor playful cymbal splash, nor charming piano bit hits without prowess. The decidedly modern guitar and vocal forward mix even allows some space for Gildenlöw’s fretless slides to sneak in a tasty morsel of closed-eye sonic pleasure. But on this solid foundation Philosophobia constructs a sound that echoes weakly the past of the genre. In the search of prog, Philosophobia delivers, but in their current state they do little better than what has been done before them.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Sensory Records
Releases Worldwide: June 24th, 2022

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  1. Maybe just me?
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