The weirdest band in Yorkshire just got a little darker.
Phantom Head is The Scaramanga Six's seventh album, and the first since 2011's Cursed, which saw the band moving into some darker territory. On Phantom Head, the band delves yet further into the darkness, turning in perhaps their bleakest collection of songs yet.
For those unfamiliar with The Scaramanga Six, it is difficult to describe their sound. In places, they're a bit like an evil version of The Cardiacs, mixing elements of pop with just enough weirdness to keep it interesting. There are also streaks of Mark E Smith's The Fall in there, and also (and very sparingly at that) in places the influence of bands like Big Black and Shellac, but this is no surprise given that The 'Six ventured out of Yorkshire to record this album with the man himself, Steve Albini.
Somewhat predictably then, you get an album that is packed tightly with Albini-hallmarks. You get the buzzing, chainsaw guitar tones and simple yet snarling riffs heard on Shellac and Big Black records in The Bristol Butcher and the second half of We Are the Blind, which is notable for just how incredibly punishing that riff is when it comes in after the hypnotic, brooding start to the song.
You also get those big, loud and clear drums which characterised much of Nirvana's Albini-produced swansong, In Utero. Given that The Scaramanga Six now feature not one, but two drummers (their sound checks must be a laugh.), it was inevitable that the drums would feature heavily on Phantom Head. Most notable in terms of percussion are Missing, which is built on a driving rhythm, and I Am The Rain, which couples the cacophonous drums with an almighty hook.
Phantom Head is not all just Steve Albini trickery. The Scaramanga Six have bags of their own personality and, inevitably, it shines through. The album's opening song, I Will Crush Your Heart, opens with an incredibly melodic flourish of piano before going into Paul Morricone's best evil David Bowie style croon. The Spider is a dark, almost spoken word track with a huge disco influenced chorus which comes out of nowhere. The album is in general quite bleak, and quite dark, and so when the sweet pop of They Put You On a Pedestal bursts through right in the middle of the tracklist it is something of a welcome relief.
In places, however, the album seems to drag a little while the band build atmosphere before big crushing crescendos. We Are the Blind is guilty of this. It just seems to spend too long getting to the point. The album also suffers from sounding a little empty in places. There is a lot of space in the mix, and it is a surprise that given there are actually six members of the band now, the arrangements are fairly sparse.
Overall, Phantom Head is a worthy addition to the catalogue of The Scaramanga Six. It is bleak and heavy, although not in a Slayer kind of way. If you like your music somewhat dark and bizarre Phantom Head has a great deal to offer to you.
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