Phrenelith – Chimaera Review

Just listen to Desolate Endscape instead. That’s the record you want to hear. Chimaera simply doesn’t measure up to Phrenelith‘s debut, a cratonic slab of atrocious death metal that crushed listeners with granitic indifference. Chimaera is nothing of the sort: an unfocused, unfinished, and forgettable record that manages at best to echo Endscape, foggily repeating its shapes without conviction. Scraped together from old material and the barest of stopgap measures, it’s a huge letdown from a band that was at the top of the old school death metal game a few years ago.

“Awakening Titans” begins Chimaera far less courageously than its predecessor, opening with the foreboding clean guitar that accompanied the still moments of Desolate Endscape. But the band’s crushing death metal riffs aren’t far behind; “Awakening Titans” features one of Chimaera’s best, a bruising tremolo line that would have been right at home on the last record. It would make for a great song if ended at about the 3:40 mark, but the band stretch it out to seven with new riffs that just aren’t as convincing. That approach really encapsulates Chimaera as an album. The few crumbling remnants of the band’s monumental strength are waterlogged and eroded in a soggy muck of new material.

If I’m feeling charitable, I could interpret Chimaera as an attempt to expand Phrenelith’s sound, at times foregrounding foggy atmosphere and often slowing the pace to a lethargic crawl. “Phlegethon” is the clearest example, an atmospheric song that restricts vocals to the occasional roar or hiss and drags through four minutes, demolishing the momentum regained by “Chimaeran Offspring – Part I.” The last two minutes of “Chimaeran Offspring – Part II” feel similarly blank, repeating the same two tones continuously over different drum patterns. Phrenelith shouldn’t need or want to do this; Desolate Endscape won over listeners not because of atmosphere but because of riffs, riffs that were brazen and bitter and impossible to ignore. Chimaera seems to have few of these things to offer and instead pads out a record with interludes and filler tremolo lines. Even compared to Desolate Endscape at its weakest, Chimaera is blown away; that record’s intensity just isn’t here.

Chimaera offers listeners almost nothing new of value. Its best songs have been out for four years as the Chimaeran Offspring EP – released even before Desolate Endscape. It’s true that “Gorgonhead” and  “Kykytos” sound far better on the LP than on that brittle, maxed-out EP, but that’s hardly reason enough to recommend Chimaera as a record. The new material that makes up the bulk of the record – “Awakening Titans,” “Phlegethon,” and “Chimaeran Offspirng – Part II” are all padded out and tired. Chiamera’s production doesn’t help the case; the guitar tone is murkier than that of Desolate Endscape, considerably blunting the few good riffs they can muster. At 31 desperately gained minutes, the record still feels like a slog, whereas Endscape closed after 34 and demanded a repeat listen. A less charitable interpretation of Chimaera is that it’s thrown together in order to meet some requirement to release a record. And that’s what it feels like.

For an album four years after the last to be this patchy and unfinished, the band must have been facing serious challenges. That’s all the more clear when one contrasts the quality of Chimaera with that of Desolate Endscape, a record that stands among the very best of the 2010s death metal revival. Whatever ill circumstances are behind Chimaera, I truly hope Phrenelith never face them again. There’s little to like on this record beyond what the band already released, and repeat listens reward me with little more than boredom. I’ll keep listening to Desolate Endscape in the hopes that the band have another great record in them–Chimaera isn’t it.


Score: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Winter Records
Websites: phrenelith.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/phrenelith
Releases Worldwide: December 10th, 2021

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