Phantom Winter is a five piece band from Würzburg/Germany. They formed in 2014 and Her Cold Materials (“A Coming Of Age Folk Horror Tale”) is their 4th album. It was released October, 27, 2023 via "This Charming Man Records".
Her Cold Materials was inspired by the novel trilogy "His Dark Materials" by Philip Pullman. And like Pullman's story this is also a coming-of-age story of a teenage woman and I guess it's safe to say this is a concept album. So, the quintet gifts us with a new batch of Winterdoom, like they label their style of music. And the album fits this label perfectly well. Piercing wintriness and epic doomscapes are the keystones for its atmospheres.
The opening song Flamethrowers immediately carries you off into a mystical dreamlike setting. The sound is slow, droning, doomy and heavy, but somehow soft and wadded like in a shroud of snow. The almost ethereal bone-chilling guitar tone is kind of hovering over everything. (Church) Bells that chime an unfamiliar pattern and melody ooze a menace that feels arcane as it feels ancient. The croaky, abrasive and aggressive vocals add a vicious brutality and a dense and complex atmosphere of melancholy, despair, anger and portentousness is complete. From the short break on, about in the middle of the song, violent dynamics with layers of sound evolve around driving drums with hypnotizing, exotic patterns that finally bring the song home. Flamethrowers sets the atmosphere for the entire album, yet each of the six songs of the album got their own atmospherical, stylistic and emotional focus.
Her Wound is Grave puts its focus on the Post Metal structure, with minimalistic chords, spoken words, samples and an impactful use of the low loud contrast. The quieter moments underscore the impact of the violent bluster as they take space to breathe, and all they breathe is agony and despair. Exotic drum patterns, again, give an extra portion of dramatic eeriness.
Despite all the depressing and threatening atmosphere, When I Throw Up feels like a rebellious act of liberation.The almost Punk style clean, soaring vocals here, are a defiant, uplifting and encouraging step out of the darkness and towards light. Don't get me wrong, there's still the heavy Post/Doom foundation and that contradiction is part of the song's appeal. (I don’t know if the title's resemblance with the phrase "when I grow up" is accidental, but yeah, growing up and throwing up have a lot in common. The release and rejection of harmful stuff is healing and liberating.)
And the song isn’t only musically outstanding, in view of the storyline, it is a turning point. The point where the protagonist stops to just passively endure all the inflictions put upon her. From rock bottom she begins to search her personal path(s) to her future adult life.
And this search is becoming really scary, dark and mysterious in Shadow Barricade and Dark Lanterns. Upon a slow marching rhythm and misty noise, gnarly, demonical black metal vocals and different styles of spoken words meet in Shadow Barricade and enfold an ominous, anxious atmosphere. Dark Lanterns continues the march and everything is getting even creepier, again with an excellent use of low-loud dynamics and minimalistic structures. Clean and harsh vocals in duet create a beautiful ambivalency. The many different vocal expressions and their combinations stand for the many different influences, good or bad, from people and events that contribute to the protagonist's progress.(Watch the video for Shadow Barricade.)
The Unbeholden is the story's last chapter and final emancipatory step - the denial of obligation "No one formed me of clay, I owe you nothing anyway" and self-determination and self-responsibility "I am the future, I am everything, I am the future, I am I am". An explosively raging start with fierce and abrasive vocals gives way to a quieter spoken word passage which again leads into a wrathful violence with piercing screams to finally end with a mellow acoustic melody that offers a bittersweet serenity and peace.
With their very distinct style of a Black, Doom, Ambient, Sludge and Postmetal mix Phantom Winter tell a beautifully dark and enigmatic story that captures the emotional chaos and struggles that accompany coming of age. The wide range of stylistic elements they employ adds to the overall brilliant songwriting and the outcome is a coherent, intense, emotional, atmospheric and compelling album of Winterdoom.