Philm – Harmonic
I’ve always quite liked Dave Lombardo. By which I mean I like the idea of him, having never actually met the man. I like the fact that in a band so unapologetically ‘metulz’ as Slayer, with its band members straining to look cooler than cool (and often just ending up looking like Kerry King), there’s a guy at the back who looks like the kind of plumber who’d drink five cups of tea then charge you an hourly rate for the time it takes to drink them.
I like the fact that although he’s one of the best metal drummers in the world, he’s equally at home making discordantly and joyously stupid noise with Mike Patton. I like that he has, according to Wikipedia, recorded an album of Vivaldi music, been a disco DJ, and recorded an album with someone called DJ Spooky, who played his record collection and let Lombardo improvise drums over the top of them. By comparison, the only thing my mind can imagine the rest of Slayer doing with their free time is trawling ebay looking for iron crosses, beating their chests ferociously or possibly eating kittens.
My admiration for the man has long since outstripped my love for the band he made his name with (which I believe had a similar expiry date to my virginity.) So when I get a press release heralding a new band featuring the good Dr Lombardo, I get marginally excited. When that press release says ‘upon hearing the musical direction that Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo has embraced with his new band, PHILM, fans are certainly in for a surprise,’ my interest piques a little more.
When I then see quotes from Dave Lombardo his very self that say ‘When people hear about my involvement in PHILM, they automatically assume that it will compare to Slayer’s sound. They couldn’t be more different,’ my mind is racing with possibilities. Is this a reinterpretation of the writing of Charles Darwin through the medium of the flugelhorn? Could it be nursery rhymes recreated from the sound a toad makes when its back is licked in just such a way? Could this possibly be the very sound of the breath of God?
No. Rather disappointingly, it’s a vaguely eclectic post hardcore album. This disappointment is in its own way disappointing, because it has rather disappointingly stopped me from paying much attention to it beyond that. Which is a shame (nay, disappointing) because actually, this is not a bad album, albeit nowhere near the groundbreaking shift in music that the hyperbole surrounding it would suggest.
Stepping back, it seems Philm are a three piece featuring the aforementioned Slayer drummer, War’s Pancho Tomaselli and Gerry Nestler of Civil Defiance. ‘Harmonic’ is their debut album, and is, unsurprisingly given the band’s genetic makeup, steeped in ferocious drums, old school hardcore vitriol and good old fashioned gusto. Opening track ‘Vitriolise’ lurches from punk rock riffing over blast beats to a chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on a scratchy old Dischord vinyl. It’s good, it gets the blood pumping and the memory glands squirting snatches of my musical history into my brain ear. Second track ‘Mitch’ does exactly the same, throwing so many hardcore and post hardcore reference points at you that you don’t even realise that its finished and you’re listening to the next track.
For all of its supposed invention, the real problem with ‘Harmonic’ is that it is little more than a great big blender of American underground rock, 15 tracks of ‘ooh, that sounds like the Melvins, that sounded a bit like Fugazi, hey wasn’t that a Boysetsfire riff,’ that, while pleasant enough, lacks the songwriting punch of the bands that so inform its sound. It is too unfocused, too indebted to the collective accumulated musical knowledge contained within its constituent parts to ever become something that rises above them.
There are moments where it veers more into the oddball experimentation Lombardo has explored elsewhere, but without a King Buzzo or Mike Patton to marshal the sonic meanderings they find their way up blind alleys, lost and achieving nothing, until they peter out and are replaced by a more straight ahead number.
Which is not to say that it isn’t enjoyable, far from it. The vocals are at times quite arresting, Lombardo’s drums are of course sublime, and there is no point when I’ve found myself wanting to change what I’m listening to. It’s just I’ve listened to it six or seven times and have failed to find myself humming a single riff, or doing as subtle a head nod as I can manage without catching the attention of my boss. Instead, I’ve found myself making mental notes to go back and listen to albums long forgotten. With all the will in the world I doubt that was the band’s intention.
Perhaps I’m being harsh. So few bands managed to escape their influences, and in a world where Metulzcore bands ape Slayer endlessly through a Pro Tools sheen, this album stands as something of a monument against the tidal wave of excrement that his main job has unleashed on the world. But like any monument, it is too rooted to the past to be anything more exciting than a pigeon perch.