Feature photo: Ian Jenkinson
December 14, 2023

“This side for the Ukranians!” barks the security who seems to be having a bit of an off moment in controlling the queues heading into Manchester University’s Student Union. As another person asks if it is the right place and security stamps his feet but it is impossible to know whether it is in frustration or just by the fact that it is a freezing cold Manchester evening.

Someone else that is in a fearsome mood is Phantom Elite front woman Marina La Torraca. Bounding onto the stage following the dramatic opening intro with a “let’s see you fucking hands up, Manchester” and the small but attentive crowd complies as this international quartet dives into Skin Of My Teeth, first track from their 2023 stunning album Blue Blood.

Photo: Ian Jenkinson

Tonight is Phantom Elite’s first time ever in the city and this is a band here to make an impression and not waste time or do anything other than focus their energy on an exciting and memorable set.

Concentrating on material from Blue Blood and 2021’s sophomore record Titanim, the stage may be small and cramped but the band is like an uncoiled spring with La Torraca and guitarist Max van Esch ensuring that they fill every centimetre. The Race features one of those lyrics that just has the power to tingle spines – “Pull the pin and just denonate the stillness” and it is impossible to miss the passion in La Torraca’s voice and that slight break before the last chorus is one of the few times that van Esch stops moving before tearing off again as the song heads for its crescendo. With live bassist ripping the grins as well as the bass lines and drummer Joeri Warmerdam’s ridiculously fluid skin skills no-one would ever believe that Phantom Elite is a support band without a full production.

Conjure Rains has not only Marina La Torraca headbanging but the front row over the barrier is like a Schwatrzkop advert. There is a magical quality to La Torraca as a performer; brimming with confidence, every note sang is considered and powerful and even hand gestures are mesmerising. By Black Sunrise, it is clear that the newcomers in the venue have made a discovery, heads move and the front of the stage is more in tune.

Darkday picks up the pace and Warmerdam’s drums are a joy to watch leading up to a delicious chorus before van Esch tears out a cracking solo. As the ominous intro to Inner Beast begins, La Torraca refers to the Manchester crowd as “little monsters” before the song proper begins, its serpentine rhythm taking hold and refusing to let go.

With a glorious mixture of styles, it is difficult to keep up as the song sweeps into its chorus and the dropping into its stabs of metalcore. The elegant Diamonds and Dark may miss some of the gloss of the album version but it still retains its majesty, the slide of guitar into its pinch harmonics, the captivating and emotional vocal spills.

It may have only been seven songs but Phantom Elite delivered a set with a sense of urgency and like it was in front of a million faces. There was a taut focus on the energy and having to choose songs that would fit a short set but aimed a punch to the gut. The band leaves the stage all smiles; job done.

Photo: Ian Jenkinson

Phantom Elite feels like it is still a secret but make no mistake that this band made new fans and friends tonight.  It is not just Phantom Elite’s boundlessness on stage but there is as much energy in their creativity; both Titanium and Blue Blood revealed different sides to the band and showed that there is no intention to stand still nor to repeat themselves.

A support act tonight, maybe, but the future is bright for this young band that still has more than plenty to offer on the world stage.

Blue Blood is out now on Frontiers Records