Phantasmagory
Anamorphosis of Dreams

This is a strange one. Hailing from the Ukraine, Phantasmagory blends progressive death with jazzy, serpentine synth soundscapes to create a cosmic, darkly whimsical experience. It’s like Cynic playing the soundtrack to a Final Fantasy game. Very odd. Makes Arcturus sound staid and predictable.

Released in 2002, Anamorphosis of Dreams features a collection of Edward Miroshnichenko’s surreal, expansive compositions, all within the 7-10 minute range. Plenty of time-signature and tempo changes, with each song dominated by a busy, meandering burble of fantasy-styled prog-synth. Jazzy, stabbing chords give way to more celestial, meditative passages, only to whirl into dark calliope or a piano solo moments later. Maybe that sounds annoying, but there are actually a lot of interesting, even pretty moments throughout.

Guitars and riffs take a backseat to the orchestration here, although the album retains its death metal labeling via a variety of growls, rasped vocals and ominous whispers. A spoken-word croak, rendered in a vaguely Russian accent, makes the occasional appearance as well. This is not a particularly aggressive or intense album – it’s more of a relaxed listening experience, where your primary goal is absorbing the soundscapes and unraveling the songs.

That’s a big challenge – and curse – for this kind of prog. These are songs that will take many, many listens to absorb and learn, which is sometimes part of the fun – usually what I look forward to when digesting a new Nile or Opeth album. At times though, some songs just seem too decadent and contorted to ever get to that point. They feature interesting patches of melody to grab at, but the rest is too fidgety to ever let you settle into any kind of groove.

The most successful track here is “Dawn”. Starting with a downtempo piano and bass combo, it paints an ethereal mood before spiraling off into another dreamscape, which seems to flow more lucidly and pleasantly than the rest of the album. (Or it could just be that it’s my favorite track on the album, and the one I’ve listened to the most.) Listen for the piano cascade at 2:35, which can only be described as delightful (I know, an adjective that should never be used while writing about metal) before it briefly mutates into a jazzy breakdown that runs away to join an evil circus. Unexpected, transportive and ultimately, rewarding.

While Anamorphosis of Dreams is one of the rarer and more distinctive albums in my collection, it’s by no means a classic – more of a curiosity. The indulgent songs and cosmic whimsy of the orchestration may turn off listeners looking for a more aggressive, darker experience – in that case, I recommend Augury or Unexpect. For listeners with a taste for avant-garde prog though, this is a unique listen and worth hunting down.

(On a side note, I’ve read that previous release Odd Sounds is more streamlined and structured, with more of a black metal feel as well. If I can track that one down, expect a follow-up review.)

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
May 6th, 2003

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