Phlebotomized – Immense, Intense, Suspense (1994)
I believe this may be the very first symphonic death metal album ever. I mean, it’s always possible that something preceded it, but still. Some people would award that honor to Therion, but by the time they adopted ‘symphonic‘ aesthetics more significant than two lines of operatic vocals, they’d stopped playing death metal. They did have the composition methods early on, but lots of metal relies on classical structures to inform its songwriting. Regardless, the symphonic presence on Immense, Intense, Suspense isn’t all that large – the band at this point had a violinist, a keyboardist, and some clean vocals to augment their metal instrumentation. What’s truely important is that the symphonics are pervasive – they show up throughout the songs and are in most cases entirely essential to their construction. That’s why Phlebotomized gets the award; to be fair they will be stripped of it if I find something even earlier.
This is another album which my opinions on are best described as bizarre – besides the ‘operating system‘ reference I made over a year ago, it took me a very long time to decide whether this album was worth the many listenings I ended up giving it in an attempt to judge it. Assuming with a sane author, you could infer that I had to like at least on some level, otherwise I would’ve tossed it or otherwise never given it further consideration. Quality aside, this is kind of a weird album in all ways. In 1996, this band released a second album (Skycontact) which is allegedly more intentionally avant-garde, but that’s from the vast, growing collection of albums I haven’t listened to.
As a symphonic death metal album, it definitely succeeds at being symphonic death metal – the sections with symphonic instruments tend to be slower in tempo than those without, but this is not always the case – for instance, see the chorus of “Desecration of Alleged Christian History”, or the intro to “Subtle Disbalanced Liquidity”. In other words, the band is good at using all of its members, like I said before. The song structures, though – while not being overly formulaic, they do have a somewhat arbitrary, random feel to them. My guess is that writing songs of this ambition level was somewhat new to them, so they hadn’t quite got the hang of it by then. In fact, some of the more metallic elements feel incongruous here, like the gang shouts. The parts that “fit” work out better – while not particularly technical or anything, the playing is proficient and evokes a good variety of moods and ideas. I’d argue the band relies too much on C->C# minor progressions for their riffs, but I have weird ideas about tonality.
In the end, it’s actually sort of like the death metal equivalent of my last review… except not as good. There really isn’t anything bad on this album, and to be honest, there aren’t many moments that would quantify as mediocre, either. I wouldn’t call it essential, anyways – most songs have their moments of greatness, but are brought down by lack of refinement. Now, if Phlebotomized had made a second album in this style, they probably would be much better known, assuming some learning during the process. Skycontact, from what I’ve heard, is good for what it is, but if you’re not into that sort of genre bending wackiness (and some people just aren’t), you probably won’t enjoy it. This is still interesting from a historic stance, but more symphonic metal takes cues from Therion, or one of the early ’90s black metal bands.
Highlights: “Barricade”, “Subtle Disblanaced Liquidity”, “Mellow Are The Reverbarations”