There will be no argument that Italian label Frontiers is known for being one of the powerhouses of melodic hard rock/metal with the label stretching its considerable wings with their roster as well, so when Phantom Elite’s second album, 2021’s Titanium was announced on the label, it was something of a surprise.
The idea for Phantom Elite was sown from producer Sander Gommans’ HDK project and while releasing the HDK album Serenades Of The Netherworld, Gommans brought together young musicians with the intention of playing HDK’s songs in a live setting. The natural chemistry of the passionate musicians wound up sparking a wealth of new musical ideas and Phantom Elite was born. As an opening salvo, the band’s self released 2017 debut Wasteland was a good album – if a tad rough around the edges – that showed promise but it was clear from the initial look of their follow up, 2021’s Titanium that Phantom Elite was already aiming for another level. It is often said that a band’s second album can be the ‘difficult’ one but if that really is the case then this Titaninium made easy work of it; the record was something of a stunner, modern sounding and rammed full of memorable songs, impeccably delivered and crystal clear and tight production.
Phantom Elite could have written Titanium II but instead Blue Blood stands on its own as a progression of a young band that not only has ambition but the chops to pull it off. Sure, there is a journey to be had but one that can be traversed through Phantom Elite’s three albums to date but this is not a band that is creating a theme – it is all about the songs themselves. Phantom Elite will sit comfortably in what is known as “symphonic” and Titanium did fit with a look but in terms of the style and songs, there was a fusion of pop, progressive elements and even metalcore along with that symphonic sound. The same is indeed the case with Blue Blood but the songs are allowed to breathe, the musical inspiration or its pointers are not emphasised but the fusion is more evident.
It cannot be denied that as a vocalist, Marina La Torraca (also of Exit Eden and live vocalist for Avantasia) has one hell of a range and once again, it is the context of the songs that really brings such a versatile vocalist to the fore, swinging from serenity to throwing pop hooks to stabs of aggression and all perfectly placed. Birdcage and Apex are poles apart as songs; the former a sublime and relatively stripped down approach with keys and subtle guitar but with La Torraca’s voice the real focus on a soft song rather than a ballad that takes its time in delivering all of its ingredients and even when the whole band comes in, it is not overwrought. Apex is the complete contrast, a staccato rhythm and an almost rap on some of the vocals but with heavy beats of guitars, the song rockets along an aggressive mid section and with some seriously gnarly lyrics in the “drop dead why don’t you disappear”. Phantom Elite’s skill in having a lot going on within the song but it not being overcrowded. La Torraca can deliver soul and can also deliver fierce but it works with the instrumentation behind it and the arrangement as a whole. With the band featuring multi-instrumentalist Max van Esch and the very fluid drums of Joeri Warmerdam, the band sound is a barrel roll of dense guitar, pounding bass and thumping drums with doses of electronica. With a visual image that is more “street” than the previous Titanium era, Phantom Elite is clearly looking at their band as a whole, there are doses of colour, whether it be the stunning cover artwork or the colouration of the Inner Beast music video, the band knows what it is doing and feels comfortable in its own skin and delivering both the sonics and the visuals.
Blue Blood is a skillful and well presented modern metal album that is stacked full of contrasts that sees a band only beginning to fulfil its true potential.