Not just the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet, Phi is referenced in aesthetics, in the natural World and in a mathematical context as “The Golden Ratio”. The band, Phi, originates in Austria where the Golden Ratio is referred to as der Goldene Schnitt – ‘the Golden Cut’. Markus Barista, according to the document that accompanies my copy of Cycles, has been searching for der Goldene Schnitt which he sees as the perfect and sophisticated blend of rock music and art.
Hmmmm. My initial reaction was: The opening is beautiful. Then BANG!!! I’m strongly reminded of one of my favourite bands, Isaac Vacuum, in that Phi know when to rock it up and know when to hold back. This is heavy and inventive enough to grab my attention. In places the songs capture the angst and nihilism of my favourite music.
I suspect that it would also appeal to fans of “Prog” who are happy to step over into the heavier side. For “Progressive Rock” it seems deceptively simple, but that’s an illusion. These songs have been crafted and carefully arranged. Not for Phi the straight-forward if repetitive verse-chorus-verse-chorus song format of a 4/4 pop song. Complicated, yet not gratuitously so, with one foot planted in a guitar driven metal bucket, Phi have a way of building in a lot of texture to this collection of songs. This is not the product of the strange set of algorithms used to produce chart music. Nevertheless, Phi don’t succumb to the prog clichés that can often manifest themselves in a complete lack of originality. The strange time signatures built-in using a kind of prog template are not immediately evident here. This music is complicated enough to show intelligent writing, seemingly because the band get a kick out of it, but avoiding any risk of it being difficult to listen to. There are tunes and even hooks that make this music hugely listenable and even after quite a few weeks at no stage did I feel tired of it; on the contrary, I look forward to hearing it.
Markus’s lead vocals remind me of the vocal style of David Draiman of Disturbed when Phi are in full flow. There is a classic “Rock Vocalist” veneer on a bed of Nu Metal. There’s a groove, yet just when you are lulled into a comfortable head-bob, Phi step it up and lean toward the heavier side of the progressive spectrum. Phi’s music is nuanced by social commentary, if the listener chooses, but the nuance doesn’t appear to be an affectation, neither does it seem to be their reason for being. Political, but not in-your-face. The contrast of the more “ambient” sections, few that they are, serve more to remind you that this band is about power and even subtlety. Phi do make you work slightly harder during their heavier sections to find this subtlety, but it is there. It is in the sequenced sounds and keyboards carefully mixed to augment their overall sound, in the drums that might on first glance feel like a straightforward beat, yet when you follow them they are fooling you because this section is hiding its nine beats to the bar. The keyboards add softer shades to the starkness of the guitar and the interesting rhythms add something to properly get your teeth into.
Grand, ambitious and heavy, their occasional trips into quieter soundscapes will never fool you into thinking that they could be a band that tinkers with anything but musical metal. I really like this album.
01. Children Of The Rain (8:54)
02. Dystopia (8:50)
03. In The Name Of Freedom (7:25)
04. Amber (7:38)
05. Existence (6:52)
06. Blackened Rivers (7:43)
Total Time – 47:22
Markus Bratusa – Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizer, Sound Design
Stefan Helige – Guitar
Arthur Darnhofer-Demár – Bass
Nick Koch – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards, Programming, Backing Vocals
Record Label: Gentle Art of Music/Soulfood Music
Catalogue#: GAOM 055
Country of Origin: Austria
Date of Release: 29th March 2018