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The Phantom Band
Checkmate Savage Hazel Sheffield , May 15th, 2009 07:19

Brazenly unafraid to embrace the arcane, The Phantom Band have been gigging for six years now under various ephemeral monikers. They've been known to sport sack-like disguises to obscure their faces, and organist Andy once described them as "the most self-destructive, directionless, negative collection of argumentative individuals I know, who go out of their way to mess up anything that might be working in their favour.” Ten points for obfuscation, guys.

Having settled finally on their ghostly epithet and signed to Chemikal Underground, the Glaswegian sextet find physical form on their debut album, Checkmate Savage. Its nine tracks solder together weighty, mystical tone poems with playful, analogue detail that encompasses melodica, polyrhythmic DIY percussion and even a bit of barbershop. While there's plenty here to justify the Krautrock tag with which they've been so zealously christened, Checkmate Savage is flecked with folk, indie and prog just as much as it tickers to a motorik beat.

The result is rooted in a mysterious Scottish supernaturalism; at times their sound seems to drift fully formed from a Highland musical hide-out. Opener 'The Howling' doesn't disappoint with its ghostly baying and the sliding squall of electronic inflections, as vocalist Rick Anthony conjours misty landscapes of wind and woods that outlast corporeal pleasures. The mountain trail stretches onwards with 'Burial Sounds'. Elsewhere 'Half Hound' throws a filthy distorted riff deserving of full-volume to a wall of clicking and grinding effects and monastic mono-chanting. 'Crocodile' is a fine, lyric-less achievement reminiscent of the heady analogue clatter of Holy Fuck, and 'Island Shore' is a sparse, yarn-weaving folk song that swings between sea-shanty and dirge.

Musically, you can see why Checkmate Savage took six years to perfect. Like a well-assembled IKEA flatpack, there's lots in there but it'll hold just as long as the screws are tight enough. From bleeps to banjos, acoustic strumming to apocalyptic percussion, the taught 4/4 maintains the momentum through sprawling demonstrations of each bandmate's many capabilities. If anything, they lean to the distended side of 'explorative', but for Phantoms who have taken quite so long to find their feet, that's faint criticism indeed.