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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Philosopher

Thoughts

Review by Mike Korn

Few authors have inspired more heavy metal bands than Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the "old gentleman of Providence," who created legendary tales of horror featuring the dreadful Cthulhu and his brethern. Only J.R.R. Tolkien and his epic "Lord of the Rings" has probably influenced more bands. Heavy metal, in particular death metal, is an ideal musical accompaniment to Lovecraft's ominous stories of ancient monstrosities and brooding evil. With its morbid distortion and inhuman vocals, death metal often evokes the gruesome otherworldliness Lovecraft was seeking to express.

Hailing from Germany, Philosopher is certainly bowing to Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. Lyrically, they are almost wholly inspired by his works, Musically, they are definitely in the grand old tradition of early death metal, recalling such seminal bands as Death and Massacre. They are more interested in creating a doomy feeling of morbidity than the insane speed and technical virtuosity that modern era death metal bands seek.

The band could do with some judicious pruning of their material. Songs tend to drag on a bit and as a whole, Thoughts runs too long. Also, they lack a standout lead guitarist like a Chuck Schuldiner or a James Murphy to jazz up their material. But overall, they are a tight and solid band and most importantly, they do justice to both H.P. Lovecraft and old school death metal here.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Seven Hundred Steps of Deeper Slumber
A subdued if ominous beginning, this is a brief instrumental with a muted Middle Eastern feel. 
Awakening Senses
The death comes crashing in here with a classic morbid feel. Any lover of the first Death and Obituary albums will dig this. The vocals are grinding and guttural but not totally lost in mush. Again, there's a vaguely Oriental or Middle Eastern vibe to parts of this track, which fits the Lovecraftian theme well. It's one of the CD's best tracks.
Beyond Darkness
The pounding continues here, with a cut that's a bit more complex and involved than "Awakening Senses." The band finds the exact middle ground between doomy, deliberate riffing and a quicker, more energetic pace. The drumming is excellent and varied and the lead guitar soloing is adequate but not mind-blowing.
Elysia
A cold and restrained piano melody is the backbone of this brief instrumental.
What Dwells Beyond
This starts off quickly and reminds me of Pestilence with its faster, more complex pace. The vocals are more tortured than usual here, cutting loose with some extended growls and groans. This is the thrashiest and most energetic cut, made for headbanging.
Wounds
This is the first of the tracks I thought dragged a little bit. It's not a bad tune and much in the same vein as the earlier material, but the riffing is awkward and not as compelling as previous tracks.
47 Degrees 9' S, 126 Degrees 43' W
I would guess the title refers to the location of either sunken R'lyeh where Cthulhu slumbers or perhaps the lost Antarctic city of "At The Mountains of Madness." [the first one is correct- ed.] This is just a brief ambient and eerie tone. 
Nephren-Ka
Nephren-Ka was the infamous "Black Pharaoh" that Lovecraft wrote of in some of his tales. The death metal band Nile has already used him as the subject of their album "The Catacombs of Nephren-Ka." Here Philosopher creates a doomy and mid-paced grinder that reminds me a lot of the undeservedly forgotten band Resurrection. This lengthy track really transmits a feeling of ancient dread and majesty.
Dreamside
The sonorous peal of a gong starts this cut, whose main verse is a kind of galloping riff with a tense feel. This track has an awkward quality to it, as there are some abrupt stops and changes, usually to feature ethnic percussion. There's a lot of harmonic squealing on the guitars here. By now, Philosopher's style is getting pretty predictable.
World In Rapture
This is more of the gloomy, Egyptian-tinged death metal we've been hearing from the band. I would have liked to hear a real fast Morbid Angel style scorcher to break up material that is starting to sound the same. The track is fine for what it is, but there's simply not enough stylistic deviation on Thoughts to keep monotony from setting in.
I Am Providence
This somber, haunting piano melody is dedicated to the memory of Lovecraft, the "old gentleman of Providence" and provides a low key exit for the CD.
 
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