posted on 3/2006 By:
Phobia are an old-school grindcore band. All those who have no interest in this style are advised to hit the “back” button on their web browsers now.
Everyone out? Good. Those still reading are probably fairly excited to check out Cruel; Phobia have been a grind mainstay for sixteen years and with good reason. From their punked-out beginning to this, their Willowtip debut, this Orange County act has maintained a high standard of quality and musical integrity…well, to the degree that such terms can even be applied to this most extreme of styles. Having followed Phobia for years, I’m pleased to find that their latest output is perhaps their strongest to date.
This begs the question: “How exactly can a band improve when they deliberately avoid progressing from one release to the next?” Well, to be perfectly couth, it’s the fucking production. Phobia have always been one of the very, very few traditionalist grind acts who can work within their niche and still craft memorable songs, but Scott Hull (Pig Destroyer and Agoraphobic Nosebleed, among others) has endowed them with a thick, remarkably clear tone that allows them to strike with much fuller force than the usual blastin’-on-a-trashcan production would allow. This will undoubtedly tick off assflap-wearing crusty traditionalists everywhere, but you know what? Fuck them. This sounds a goddamn million times better than virtually every grind release I’ve heard over the past year, and to hell with the “it’s gotta be super raw and recorded in a Porta-John to be real grind” nonsense. Kudos to the band for having the guts to take the step up and to Hull for delivering such an excellent recording quality.
As for the music itself, it’s about what you’d expect from a band who grew up listening to Napalm Death, Repulsion and Discharge, and that’s all Phobia really needs to deliver. Opener and title track “Cruel” is as close as it comes to a standout cut for this type of grind; it features an ominous opening, the usual blastbeaten aural flaying (delightfully audible and articulate thanks to the Hull production), a crunching metallic slowdown, and one of the band’s signature deliberate power chord progressions over frantically thrashing drums. Cruel pretty much hits all the usual bull’s-eyes over its twenty-one-track course. There are a few of the obligatory sub-thirty-second rippers (“Death to False Punks,” “Grind,” “Yankee Swine”), but Phobia do best when they stretch waaaaaaay out to one and two minute run times. “Slaying Bastard” sports some rare melody crammed into the savagery, the churning groove returns on “Never,” and “Ignorant American” consists primarily of some uncharacteristically subdued instrumental work. None of it quite matches the intensity or catchiness of Cruel’s scorching opener, and you can be goddamn sure that there’s not a single structure that hasn’t been done before by someone or other on this release, but if you’ve been around as long as Phobia in the grind game it’s obvious that progression isn’t what you’re shooting for.
At the end of the day, you’re either a fan of trad grind or you aren’t, and if you are then this album is for you. Phobia are experienced, tight, super über mega pissed, and capable of squeezing some pretty memorable songs into all the meth-fueled hostility. I don’t know if standards even exist for comparatively evaluating this type of shit, but it measures up as far as I’m concerned. Well done.
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