It was fun reviewing a whole lot of death metal and deathcore during the early summer, but at some point I have to will myself into other genres, otherwise I’ll develop a phobi—uhhh, an irrational aversion—to them. Well, that simply won’t do. So it’s back to the ol’ grind for TheKenWord. This time around we have long-time grindsters Phobia (est. 1990), hailing from the OC, and their newest release, Generation Coward. Thirty years is a long time to put noses to the grindstone. Let’s see if this latest LP (or EP, depending on where you get your info) shows that the hard work paid off.
Phobia‘s particular cut of grind’s jib is fast, unceremonious and tinted by the crunchy distortion of Swedeath. Think Feral, but with Napalm Death‘s penchant for short, blistering cuts. Coming in at a scant fifteen minutes, Generation Coward comes and goes so quickly it’s tricky to pick it apart the way I like to. All but one of the individual numbers manage to cram a full beginning-middle-end arc within two minutes, and never at the expense of trademark grind riffs. Structured chaos appears to be the main goal in Phobia‘s work, demonstrating that the band takes its art form seriously and that you should, too.
However, moments of visceral excitement normally associated with grind are few and far between here. “Cynic Bastard” starts on the right foot, foreshadowing a firestorm of epic proportions with an ominous Swedeath plod. That storm never arrives. Instead, the pace quickens only enough to convince me that I am, in fact, listening to grind, just barely. Unexpectedly, the devastation I expected in the opener manifests in the second track, a few seconds of explosive music accented wonderfully by a vicious gravity blast. Other notable moments include the closing riff of “Falsification” and the opening riff in “Excretion,” which are a cut above in relation to the surrounding material. Similarly entertaining is “Internet Tough Guy,” which features a catchy gang-shouted chorus and solid riffing throughout.
After that, highlighting the positives devolves into mere observation of characteristics present, unassuming in nature and unimpressive is stature. The songs as written are performed competently and the anger and frustration normally attached to this genre is expressed well enough, but Phobia fails to make a mark on its intended target, whoever that might be. Generation Coward suffers further from a lack of cohesion and momentum in songwriting. Phobia delivers their music without technical error, but I consistently experience a deep yearning for something angrier, faster, more unhinged, what-have-you to make a dramatic entrance (especially on “Condemned to Tell,” “To Be Convinced” and “Aspiration Lost”). Instead, I encounter anticlimactic conclusions and undithered transitions aplenty, leaving me with an album (or EP, or whatever else Willowtip is marketing this as) nowhere near as compelling as it should be.
Master and apprentice. Warrior and disciple. I can safely assume all four work their respective asses off for the title, but one is nevertheless superior to the other in each pair. Phobia spent thirty years working through their grind apprenticeship, fighting alongside the horde instead of leading the charge. Yet, Generation Coward illustrates that the band still lacks the requisite quality to compete with genre stalwarts like Birdflesh, Cripple Bastards or early Misery Index. Perhaps one day soon the world will see Phobia master their craft and claim their fifteen minutes of fame. These are, unfortunately, not those fifteen minutes.