Seputus – Phantom Indigo Review

If tasked to write a glib introduction for Seputus, one could hardly do better than “Pyrrhon with 25% less Pyrrhon.” With a lineup entirely drawn from the noise-death icon (missing only the inimitable Dylan DiLella), that’s mathematically true, and with their second record, it’s likewise stylistically accurate. With Phantom Indigo drummer/guitarist Stephen Schwegler, bassist Erik Malave, and vocalist Doug Moore give in to their experimental instincts, livening their dense deathgrind with nauseous psychedelia and stretching their compositions to the breaking point. Preoccupied and hallucinatory, Phantom Indigo nervously pushes Seputus out of the shadows.

Though the trio’s work mirrors features of their more famous project, Phantom Indigo refracts hues from outside the Pyrrhon Spectrum. Fragments of improvisation, kaleidoscopic vocals, and heavily distorted guitars spill out in shattered rhythms, but it’s all doused in a harsh melodic glow. These lengthy songs hold interest through a tonal undertow that rarely pulled at the band in Man Does not Give, and the source of the force is clearly fellow East Coasters Artificial Brain. Opener “The Will to Live” provides early evidence of their influence on the Seputus psyche; a minute in, Schwegler drops the record’s first tense melodic riff and Moore croaks out his best Will Smith. At about 2:30, the band go full-Brain and carry the twisted, ringing riffs and loping bass countermelodies right to the song’s glitchy resolution. Next up, “The Learned Response” flaunts the influence so brashly that it conjures a solo from Dan Gargiulo himself.

Despite this new direction, those familiar with Man Does Not Give will understand the continuity of this record. Though longer and warped with psychedelia, Schwegler’s visions of grindy death metal are as dense as ever and dominated by busy guitar and drum work. Riffs never stop coming, and even the slow passages of “Tautology” and “Deuteragonist” crackle with a nervous energy. Yet this business at times cuts against the record. When the riffs don’t quite hit, their pace can become tedious – mostly an issue in the middle of the record when lapses like the bass break in “Deuteragonist” would add some structure to the record. Seputus survive the duller parts of Phantom Indigo through shrewd arrangements and impressive performances, particularly from behind the kit.

Seputus being Schwegler’s baby, Phantom Indigo is dominated by drumming. As a drummer, Schwegler reminds me most of Mike Smith; he’s aggressive, heavy on the snare for accents, and almost metronomically precise without feeling robotic. Yet there’s a bit of Mounier in his fills, which are far more than that, at times overflowing their little phrase-gaps and spilling into the beats themselves (see “Tautology”). His guitar work replicates this penchant for precision but is never flashy – considering the talents that Seputus can pull in for solos (Gargiulo, DiLella, and Peter Lloyd of Replicant), it doesn’t need to be. Malave and Moore deliver impressive performances as well, with the former getting a few spotlights on the back half of the record. Yet Schwegler’s dense riffing and guitar-heavy mix afford the two far less space than they get on abstract, Marston-engineered Pyrrhon LPs. Still, caught in the raking light of Phantom Indigo’s subtle melodies, this opacity reinforces complexity and intrigue of a record about the edges of consciousness. When “Phantom Indigo” fades from a burst of barbarism into idly plucked strings, there is a sense of both trepidation and exhaustion, as if the musicians themselves are waking from a trance.

Phantom Indigo represents a big shift for Seputus, and not at all unwelcome. What seemed like just a side project now has substantial artistic direction, one distinct from the members’ other exploits. But the Seputus vision is still not as clear as that of Pyrrhon or Weeping Sores, blurred a bit by its production and always glancing back to its influences. Phantom Indigo is a smart and sinewy album but lacks the sizzle of inspiration present in great records. It’s easy to foresee a great future for the band, but that future hinges not on its members’ commitment or craft, but the cooperation of the wily unconscious on which Phantom Indigo fixates.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: June 4th, 2021

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