Dave Lombardo must be bored. After all, his main project doesn’t put out records or tour with the pace they used to, so what’s a drummer with only one major side project (Fantômas) to do with all his free time?
Well, you form another side project. This time, it’s called Philm, and features Lombardo on drums, Gerry Nestler from Civil Defiance on guitar and vocals and War bassist Pancho Tomaselli. The resulting 15 song set, entitled Harmonic, from the outset appears to continue in the heavy musical vein of Nestler’s and Lombaro’s past: soaring vocals over a cacophony of stampeding riffs and drums – think classic Helmet. The record opens with ‘Vitriolize’, a quasi-thrasher that sounds kinda like Slay… ya know what? Not even gonna say it. The succeeding three tracks all dance around this theme. ‘Area’, especially, rides this Helmet vibe with its dark underbelly bass line gurgling during the verses, waiting for the guitar to gnash its teeth into the chorus. Sadly, by the end of the fourth track this becomes formulaic.
Then something odd happens. ‘Way Down’, the fifth song, takes a sudden left turn; we go from metallic hardcore to jazzy noodling. Which is to say, the record suddenly becomes, somewhat paradoxically, exciting. There are still some metallic elements in the composition but it’s more retained in Nestler’s tone than (power) chords. This new theme peaks with the seven-minute, lost-in-the-woods wank-fest ‘Exuberance,’ the highpoint of the album. Not only does it demonstrate more than any other song that this trio can play, but it also proves that Philm excel when they step outside of the claustrophobic, Helmet-worshiping box and just dick around with a skeletal structure.
But after ‘Exuberance’ they go right back into making philistinistic racket. Then jazzy psychedelia. Then loud for couple songs. Then soft. Then loud again. The album never has a chance to gain any traction or upward momentum when the sequencing is so schizophrenic. It’s almost as if the band found playing either just Helmet-inspired hardcore or just spaced-out rock, well, boring.
Which is unfortunate given the musicianship and occasionally great songwriting. In fact, a number of great lyrics can be found here. ‘Way Down’ features paranoia-drenched lines like, “I think I hear you coming/From way down/I think I hear you coming… coming… coming”. Much like the bizarre pacing of the record, however, for every excellent line there’s an equal and opposite dud. “Run, run like a racehorse runs” from ‘Hun’ comes to mind. Had Philm just chosen one of its two personalities to focus on, Harmonic might’ve been a winner. As it stands, though, the album is simply the sound of disinterest.