Your eyes close. A stylus connects with a vinyl groove, emitting that warm, oddly comforting kerplunk sound, a few tiny clicks and pops sounding off as the needle settles in. You feel relaxed. Gentle, lullaby-like strains of plucked strings fade in. Your eyes gently roll, your body goes numb, as you drift off to sleep. A sinister, low, rumbling note emerges from nowhere, a voice, perhaps yours (who knows) breathes and sighs with unsettling sounds of "haaaah... haaaah..." Something's not right. Suddenly, you're jolted as a monstrous flourish of a single, distorted guitar chord and a cymbal crash seizes you. Your heart starts to palpitate... you can hear your pulse start to race, as the strings come in again. This time, they're not soothing. You want to wake up, but you feel like your eyelids are glued shut. A voice laughs (or does it cry?), as you feel yourself sinking deeper, as a menacing choir of voices pulls you under, as that Satanic overture continues. Then, silence, but for a rumbling sound, like a deep, howling wind. Suddenly, waves of screeching noise pierce your eardrums, as you feel yourself being dragged deeper and deeper into some kind of subterranean, hellish lair. This is no lucid dream; all control has been surrendered. This is a freakin' nightmare, my friend, and you're not going anywhere.
Fantomas has a deep love of the macabre. The brainchild of Mike Patton, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the true demented geniuses of modern music, and featuring Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, and former Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn, Fantomas derives its name from the protagonist of the famous French crime novel series, and the music this quartet specializes in is just as dark and harrowing as the crimes the character commits. Orchestral, operatic, and completely over the top, Fantomas takes heavy metal music into completely uncharted territory, as it straddles the line between progressive metal and experimental post rock.
Their 2001 album, the deranged The Directors Cut, featured interpretations of various well-known film scores, ranging from music from The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and Night of the Hunter. It's clear that Patton and his pals have a real knack for dark mood pieces, and on their new album, Delirium Cordia, they take a very bold step forward. This album is their own score for something more powerful than a scary movie: the sick, twisted dreams that emerge from your own subconscious when you're asleep. This album makes Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare sound like Cats in comparison. It makes Marilyn Manson about as scary as a cheap haunted house at a podunk county fair. No, the environment Fantomas creates here sounds real, uncomfortably real. To put it plainly, this is the most powerful musical interpretation of the nightmare experience that this reviewer has ever heard.
Delirium Cordia is one of the most audacious albums that has been released in recent years. An abstract concept album, it consists of one single, 74-minute track (it's safe to say that no singles will come out of this). It's simultaneously befuddling and enthralling, as Osborne's guitar sears, Lombardo's drumming takes on a twisted blend of metal and jazz, and the inimitable Mr. Patton turns in a virtuoso performance, as he howls, whispers, screeches, croons, whistles, and roars, all without any lyrics (his onomatopoeic, percussive vocals at the 27-minute mark are incredible). The music ranges from bombastic, metal flourishes, Eastern themes, hints of Gamelan, lounge piano, ambient, and opera (not to mention a Theremin and didgeridoo), as diverse musical styles are thrown in, seemingly arbitrarily. This is an album that needs to be played at a very loud volume, not only to get the full effect of the noise, but to also properly experience the quieter moments (check out Dunn's brilliantly scary bass solo at the ten-minute mark).
It almost defies description; this album is not one that you'd just put on at a whim. In complete contrast to today's instant-gratification, iPod-dominated, MP3 culture, you actually have to make time for this record, listen to it a few times, and completely lose yourself. It's not the most pleasant thing you'll ever hear, and it's not for the faint of heart, but there's no question that when it's all over, Delirium Cordia will leave you completely awestruck. Just make sure you don't fall asleep with the CD on.