h, the album named for the genre. Uncreative and often pretentious, these titles rarely live up to their promises. Antebellum Death ’n’ Roll, though, succeeds by both working its genre and winking at it.
“Death ’n’ roll” arose with Entombed’s 1993 album Wolverine Blues. The innovation (heresy?), supposedly, was that the band had infused (diluted?) the brutality of death metal with the swagger of rock ’n’ roll. In reality, all it did was slow things down. In contrast to its more technical American cousin, Swedish death metal was bluesy to begin with; Wolverine Blues was like ’70s hard rock tuned down and run through massive distortion and death growls.
The result wasn’t a sonic revolution, but it was a change in attitude. Bands like Gorefest and Carcass reintroduced the groove that death metal had dropped in its endless quest for brutality. Hardcore punk has done likewise, with Doomriders and Cancer Bats channeling Thin Lizzy and Motörhead. Even black metal, not known for having a good time, has revisited its roots in Venom with the “black ’n’ roll” of Darkthrone and Vreid.
As the album title suggests, Phazm isn’t working with new materials. What’s new, though, is its willingness to explore them. The lyrics are an odd mixture of necrophilia and environmentalism. Slide guitar over blastbeats is virtually unheard of, but it fits perfectly over the black metal chord modulations of “Hunger." The dark and sleazy “Mr. Toodling" and “Black ’n’ Roll" recall Girls, Girls, Girls-era Mötley Crüe. Wailing harmonica slathers the muscular, swinging grooves of “How to Become a God," reappearing in the acoustic gypsy jig of “Sabbath.”
The album's acoustic moments make it slightly disjointed. But they’re campy and evocative, the sonic equivalents of lulls between bouts of gore in horror B-movies. “Damballah” has faux-exotic tribal drums, diabolical whispers, and frightened-sounding female vocals. Quiet, bluesy licks in “Burarum” conjure up suburbs, Camaros, bloody varsity jackets. “Lorelindorenan” is the highlight, a gothic campfire ballad with harmonica lines ululating like wolves.
Ironically, the album’s video content is hardly so visual. It features a straightforward live performance—five cameras, high fidelity, and a small but appreciative crowd. Live, the band is much more “death” than “roll,” aiming solely for highest impact. The better armchair experience is this DualDisc’s CD side. For a niche subgenre, death ’n’ roll gets surprisingly multifaceted treatment here. It’s amazing that Swedish death metal, Norwegian black metal, Sunset Strip cock rock, and Rob Zombie’s backwoods menace can come together so well—in a French band.