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Fantomas' The Director's Cut


The Director's Cut

Fantomas. Alameda, CA: IPECAC Recordings, 2001. UPC 689230001720.

The first Fantomas album, released in 1999, was as unlistenable as it was innovative. Mike Patton, former vocalist from Faith No More, and concurrently involved in Mr. Bungle (as well as a number of other relatively unknown projects, generally under the auspices of John Zorn's avant-jazz influence), formed this death metal supergroup after the dissolution of Faith No More to record abrasive avant-garde noise. And that, simply put, was how the first album sounded: Noise with the occasional atonal melody. Needless to say, other than those intensely interested in the modern avant-garde and pure noise, the first album found little audience. This sequel, The Director's Cut, is another matter entirely, and comprised of the same members refining their art (Dave Lombardo previously of Slayer, Trevor Dunn from Mr. Bungle, and Buzz Osborne from the Melvins), it is bound to achieve a strange and lasting popularity.

Comprised of covers of old soundtrack music, The Director's Cut focuses Fantomas's energy through a tighter conceptual funnel than the first album's supposed sonic interpretation of a comic book, forcing them to remain somewhat true to the original scores (hence melodious), while allowing them to continue their tonal experimentation. Admittedly many of the tracks are from movies that few, if any, have seen, or if they have been seen, the soundtrack was surely unimportant (in a cognitive sense) -- the music all seems familiar though, and creepily so. But rather than remaining dead texts, needing the imagery of the film to carry the narrative of the music, to set the mood, and to ultimately validate it, the music comes alive -- this is soundtrack music that needs no movie; this is soundtrack music for a life of horror, and, as such, Fantomas provides dark lives with dark music.

Highlights on the album are rather numerous -- in fact, although it can be difficult to listen to the whole album in one sitting, the entire album is worth listening to, and always engaging. Patton's vocalizing on "Rosemary's Baby," a faux-baby speak, is one of the more eerie things on the album, and provides a decent example of how Patton works in this setting -- one which normally includes little or no singing (which is not to say that some of the music doesn't include choral pieces): Patton, largely, assumes a position of accentuation, and while the rest of the band is busy replicating the music in their particular vein, Patton uses his voice to provide screams, shouts, gurgling, chanting in foreign languages, panting, and whatever other human sound is necessary to attain the proper level of horror. "Spider Baby," "Charade," "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," and the much changed "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me," are the exceptions to this, providing Patton with something to sing, and as such, they sound like "normal" songs, although, of course, "normal" in this context is just as outstanding as everything else. Otherwise, the vocals are so buried (as is the case with "Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion"), and often deeply distorted, that they become secondary -- rather than assuming a position of dominance on the album, as is the case with so much music, the vocals are presented as a part of the music (rather than apart from it, as if the music exists on a separate plane altogether), and this only compounds the success of the album.

The Director's Cut is the most innovative and interesting, not to mention listenable, of contemporary death metal: In part, because the personalities behind the project are so interested not simply in the music, but the aesthetic of the music. This shows, particularly, on this album, allowing Fantomas to marry two very different aesthetics to achieve something dangerously intelligent. This may be the sound of music to come. And yet, The Director's Cut is surely not for those wary of contemporary avant-garde music; it is also not for those shy of noise and intensity: this is not music for parties. Unless, of course, your parties are Halloween bacchanalias.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer