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Music Review: Philm – Harmonic

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There is probably no way of saying the following without it sounding like a back-handed compliment, but I’ll try anyway. When I first heard that Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo was putting together a trio called Philm, I did not have high expectations. For one thing, I was unfamiliar with his cohorts: Gerry Nestler (vocals, guitar), and Pancho Tomaselli (bass). And for another, the results of rockstar side-projects have been notoriously hit or miss over the years.

I was in for a huge surprise with Harmonic though, for this is one of the most creative albums I have heard in a very long time. Toss every preconceived notion you might have had right into the dustbin, for these guys deliver the goods in no uncertain terms. Harmonic is like a sampler of the coolest record collection ever, and the trio play it all with a furious sense of purpose.

As would be expected from the drummer with the undisputed kings of thrash, the metal is delivered with no holds barred. “Vitriolize” is the perfect opener, letting us know that these guys mean to seriously rock, and Lombardo’s drums are played at maximum intensity. It is in the breaks where one finds the hidden heart of Philm however. Gerry Nestler leads the self-described “prog-metallists” Civil Defiance, which might explain the unusual musical interludes present not only on “Vitriolize,” but throughout the album.

Prog has gotten a bum rap ever since the first noodlings seeped out of acid-fried brain-pans back in the dinosaur days of the ’60s. A lot of this was justified, but there have been some serious exceptions over the years. For example, how about King Crimson’s In The Court of the Crimson King, or Rush‘s 2112?

But prog is by no means the only influence one hears loud and clear on Harmonic. Midway through this 15-song set I was startled by the way things slowed down during “Sex Amp,” and “Amoniac.” This was definitely a different direction, yet one that I was strangely familiar with. Then it hit me. Flipper! For this fan, there has never been an album quite like their classic 1981 debut, Generic, and apparently the men of Philm have listened to it as well.

There are four purely instrumental tracks on Harmonic; “Exuberance,” “Killion,” “Mezzanine,” and the title cut. Although all four have their merits, I was especially intrigued by “Exuberance.” To begin with think classic late-seventies Zappa, especially his insanely complicated Lather project, and the double-album that was pulled out of that fiasco was Sheik Yer Bouti. One of the many gems on that collection was “Rubber Shirt,” and “Exuberance” has more than a little in common with this amazing track.

Enough variety for you? Philm are not through yet. If a visit to the Batcave might intrigue you, try the Bauhaus-inflected “Held In Light.” This band being as eclectic as they are do not just take a Goth detour however. That would be too simple. The track breaks for some hardcore thrash during the chorus, only to flip back to the earlier feel. Back and forth, soft/loud – it is a format that has been done to death. But never like this.

The bass of Pancho Tomaselli is the third element in Philm’s wild musical concoction. It is a powerful force throughout the record, but a couple of standout examples include the deceptively titled “Mild,” and the instrumental “Killion.”

In the strange universe that Philm come from, it only seems fitting that they would close their album with a poem from Baudelaire. “Meditation“ is the one they chose, and it quite naturally is set to the sounds of thrash.

As must be abundantly clear by now, Harmonic is a tour de force of an album, and one of the most inspired endeavors I have heard in quite some time.

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