Album review: PHANTOM ELITE – Titanium


Frontiers Records (Release date 22/01/21)

On their second album now, Phantom Elite grew from the seeds of an HDK tour band, embracing Progressive Rock, Contemporary Metal and Symphonic Rock, evolving into what we see today. Fronted by Marina (Avantasia) La Torraca, with relative newcomers, Max Van Esch on guitar and bass, Joeri Warmerdam on drums, and keys by Koen Staam.

Produced and written by HDK/After Forever’s Sandor Gomman, Titanium is a huge leap forward from the debut, Wasteland (2018). There may be some echoes of HDK here and there, but not many. The range of styles they encompass is great if you enjoy variety, but not so much if you don’t like distractions.

Opening track ‘Conjure Rains’ sets out the band’s stall with a flourish, clearly going for the BPMs World Record. Van Esch and Warmerdam take off like the Shanghai Maglev, trailing La Toracca in their wake. And that’s a brilliantly clever piece of arranging, with the singer’s vocals constantly off the pace. And yet even with La Toracca marching to the beat of her own drum, the track is a cohesive, highly effective piece of music. If this sounds unusual, it’s because it is, and it works a treat.

It’s a tough act to follow, but some tracks get close:

‘The Race’ is a richly textured mix of metalwork – heavy, heaving riffs, crashing keys and guitar glissandos – framing those moments when La Torraca’s voice enters the fray, effortlessly expressing the melody and the lyrics.

The rushing harmonies of ‘Diamonds And Dark’, are the song’s focus, accelerating joyfully into a brief bridge, a key change and a towering hook, while ‘Glass Crown’s tight, taut, majestic riff does the heavy lifting. On both of these tracks, La Torraca’s satisfyingly unhurried vocal melody gives the material the kind of pop immediacy you don’t often find inhabiting Prog Metal, especially the contemporary variety.

Arguably, the episodic, seven and half minute title track is up there with that so impressive opener. It spills some gothic blood, as whispering voices urge La Torraca to rise in response to her demons. Meantime Van Escher’s guitar laces the music’s more reflective moments with bombastic cues, leading us back into the more explosive passages. Rinse and repeat. A satisfing programme.

Amanda Somerville and Stefan Rikken both contribute guest vocals to the album, but no question, La Torraca is the star here. ***1/2

Review by Brian McGowan

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