Having spent the last few years almost entirely on the extreme side of metal, I decided to start 2021 off grabbing more symphonic and traditional heavy metal in order to get back to some of the styles that I reviewed earlier in my reviewing days. What better way to jump right in than with the sophomore full-length from Brazilian/Dutch band Phantom Elite? Originally formed as a vehicle for Sander Gommans’ band HDK to perform live, Phantom Elite morphed into a new project in 2016 as a mix between symphonic, progressive, and heavy metal where Gommans contributes in a producer. In the three years that have passed since their debut Wasteland the band has gone through significant lineup changes, with vocalist Marina La Torraca now joined by a new backing lineup. The resulting effort Titanium finds Phantom Elite moving towards a direction that seamlessly merges the modern with the traditional, providing the huge choruses and melodic hooks while still having some truly heavy moments.
Opening track “Conjure Rains” makes it clear that while the instrumentation does follow a bit more traditional songwriting approach with much bigger choruses, that doesn’t mean that Phantom Elite can’t up the heaviness level to draw in fans from all sides of the spectrum. Where some of the bigger symphonic metal bands have gone almost full pop rock and focused almost entirely on melody, Titanium seamlessly moves between the two and has a lot more bite between the melodic sections that are sure to get stuck in your head for days. Tracks like “Worst of Me” lean a bit more into the melodic rock side of the spectrum with some much softer passages that build up to powerful choruses, bringing bands like Lacuna Coil to mind during their heyday. But for every moment where there’s more of a modern twist to the sound, Phantom Elite has just as many that double down on the intensity and when this happens they bring in a little bit of 90s melodic death metal alongside the sweeping keyboards and other symphonic elements. Where a lot of this genre tends to lose me is the simplicity of the song structures, resulting in some strong singles but a lot of songs that sound far too similar. Titanium manages to shake things up often enough to avoid this thanks to how often they shake up when the melodies and heavier base take the spotlight, and on the title track they even push outwards with some progressive elements and some extended time for solos. This ability to consistently shake up the formula while still having catchy hooks from beginning to end really helps the band to stand out, and it has made Titanium an album I’ve been putting on repeat regularly.
In this type of metal the ability of the vocalist can make or break an album, and Phantom Elite passes with flying colors throughout the course of the album. Marina La Torraca has a powerful voice that projects outwards to room filling levels during the choruses, but during the softer moments she’s able to take things down a notch and provide a more somber tone. It’s the type of performance that feels dynamic from one song to the next and has additional depth waiting to be discovered upon repeat listens, as when she moves from singing to more of an operatic pitch it sounds truly stunning. On Titanium, the band has also brought in a few guests. Amanda Somerville taking over lead vocals on the verses of “Silver Lining” and contributing back-up vocals on “Eyes Wide Open”. The former is a stand-out for me as the harmonizing pitches really stand out and provide even more variety late in the album. Stef Rikken rounds out the guest vocal lineup on “Worst Part of Me” with some surprisingly distorted growls that I wasn’t expecting to hear on an album like this, but it works.
The individual elements that Phantom Elite is utilizing on this album may be familiar within the symphonic and heavy metal worlds, but the way they’ve woven everything together feels refreshing. When a lot of symphonic metal moves towards modern hooks and a bit more pop influence the songs start to blur together, but this band has maintained that fine line between the heaviness that draws in more underground listeners with the soaring hooks that those who don’t always listen to metal will look for. It’s a strong showing and one that will hopefully help the band to rise up the ranks and find a sizable audience. Titanium is available from Frontiers Music.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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