Phalanx, Golden Horde (Self-Released, 2020)

There is no war like the war inside your own head. Its struggle covered thoroughly in the writing of vocalist Keir Gilchrist in his exploration of the way the human mind becomes lacerated by guilt and inward-directed abuse for his crusty death and hardcore band, Whelm.

While Whelm's Full of Hell meets Masakari interplay of ego-annihilating introspection is certainly impressive, it does leave one to wonder how much navel gazing one can do before all you're scraping up is belly-button lint.

Sometimes you need an outlet. Someone to punish other than yourself. Sometimes you need to makes someone else feel the burn of existential fire, or maybe just plain old regular fire. One way to do this is to declare war on them. War! Humanity's oldest and most cherished kinetic activity.

Older and more ingrained in our collective psyches than even tackle football, war is a gruesome and seemingly inescapable facet of human existence. A reality that serves as the inspiration for Phalanx, Gilchrist's latest death metal project, with Whelm vocalist and guitarist Sean Glazer and Deadbeat vocalist Josh Townsend. That's right, they have three!

The Golden Horde is Phalanx's first full EP and follow up to their savage 2017 demo, Varian Disaster. Phalanx depicts the history of human warfare through grinding blast-beats, steely punk-infused grooves, and a battery of illusions to military conflict so profoundly ferocious it would make Bestial Warlust run up a white flag from their trench.

But this isn't war metal. It's death metal! Just a more aggressive variety than that which was even conceived by the likes of Bolt Thrower. A frightening thought, which chills me even while I transcribe it on this page.

The Golden Horde's opening barrage is "Sajo" a brief Hatebreed-esque, amphetamine dosed grind that slips through the gaps in your defenses and slits your throat unceremoniously in your sleep.

The title track takes its time with a fiery Bolt Throwing groove, amping up the intimidation factor before unleashing the cavalry charge of its full, blast-beat propelled, death-dealing potential.

"Princess of Moonlight" is equally menacing, with a hammer fisted groove that ploughs the earth, parting it to make way for a peel of Roman fire in the form of bayonet tipped riffs and tank-thunder percussion, monstrous sounds that are further stirred towards violence by a late entering, white phosphorous coated, solo that burns through everything it touches without resistance.

"Bagdad" sees the band digging through contaminated soil to excavate filthy, carnage caked, bestial riffs, hissing high register slam-adjacent vocals, and Undergang ire raising levels of misanthropic angst.

Photo: Dillon Vaughn

The battle isn't quite over yet, though, as Golden Horde closes with the polluted hardcore crust of "Temüjin" and its haunting organ intro, concussive Tragedy-esque grooves, baying war-dog vocal exchanges, soul-harvesting Slayer-inspired bridge solo.

Phalanx may be singing about one of humankind's most ancient forms of questionable problem-solving, but they somehow manage to make it sound plenty fresh, bloody raw, and original.  

As you may have notice, we're currently swimming upstream in another old school death metal revival. While myself and others are absolutely thrilled by new releases from the likes of Caustic Wound and continued interest in releases by Blood Incantation, the backwards trained gaze of death metal as a genre can feel a little limiting at times. That's why bands like Phalanx trying something new is so vital to the scene at this juncture.

Here is to Phallanx's continued victories! May the gods smile on all of their future campaigns.

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