Philosophobia – Philosophobia


International supergroup, Philosophobia, started in Germany in 2007 as a collaboration between Andreas Ballnus (Agrypnie) and Alex Landenburg (Mekong Delta). They demoed six songs and then put the project on hold when Ballnus joined Paul DiAnno’s touring band as the live guitarist and Landenburg joined Annihilator. They started tentative discussions to resurrect the project in 2018 at the urging of ex-Pain of Salvation bassist, Kristoffer Gildenlöw, and recruited Wastefall singer, Domenic Papaemmanouil, along with keyboardist, Tobias Weißgerber, to begin the recording process for their debut album in 2020. With six of the eight songs taken from the original demos, you wonder if they listened to anything other than Dream Theater back in the day. Philosophobia is a stunning piece of musicianship, but its fifty-three minutes require calm concentration.

The graceful keyboard swirls and esoteric soprano harmonies at the beginning of ‘Thorn in Your Pride’ are as surprising as the Death riff that follows on from the pompous Bon Jovi bassline. Clocking in at nearly ten minutes, the album opener shows admirable imagination in combining hard rock with thrash metal, but the strain of adult orientated rock (AOR) underneath the action will leave you speculating if the band members have mullet haircuts. The piano reset at 06:30 seconds and sweep-picking guitar solo leave you in no doubt that this group can play their instruments. One listen to the drop-tuned groove metal spine of ‘I Am’ combines traditional heavy metal with progressive rock and confirms that the band must have had Dream Theater’s Awake on their stereo during the writing process. Yes, you can also hear an emotive voice like Geoff Tate of Queensrӱche, and Nevermore fans will enjoy the dynamism of the song, but the gang-vocal chorus prevents it from falling into a Dream Theater pastiche.

You won’t hear a conventional verse-bridge-chorus structure on this record. It’s a prog metal album, which means the band are more likely to put a bigger emphasis on keyboard solos than catchy hooks. Sometimes, they get it just right. ‘Time to Breathe’ will remind you of Witherfall in the way it mixes ice cold guitar arpeggios with emotive ballad vocals before launching into a Judas Priest stomp. The band could teach other prog metal groups a thing or two about ending on a climax. Epic for the sake of being epic is a mistake, but Philosophobia stay clear of this trap. Their main error is the decision to put the piano ballad at the beginning of two consecutive songs at the mid-way point (see ‘Between the Pines’ and ‘As Lights Ceased to Exist’). Reaching for the Dream Theater playbook when extricating your music from the impasse of AOR demands more than bedazzling musicianship. The Megadeth thrash of ‘Voices Unheard’ is much better and makes no attempt to disguise its objective of getting ten thousand fists pumping the air in ecstasy when the band hit the festival circuit. Shame on you if you can’t feel the metal magic of this song, but best of luck with the hard rock ballad of ‘Within My Open Eyes’ at the end. This is closer to Foreigner than Armored Saint and is harder to stomach. It wouldn’t be out of place on one of those old mail-order compilation CDs from the late 1990s called the Best Rock Ballads in the World… Ever. You could forgive them if they did it with the same sense of humour as Loch Vostok, but this one aims for your wife’s heartstrings when you want her to remain in apron strings.

Philosophobia are too talented and experimental to lose your attention, but they need to progress beyond Dream Theater worship if they’re to make a bid for the top ranks of the progressive metal hierarchy. Let’s hope the next record ditches the AOR and ramps up the technical thrash elements.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 24/06/2022

Record Label: Sensory Records

Standout tracks: I Am, Time to Breathe, Voices Unheard

Suggested Further Listening: Witherfall – Curse of Autumn (2021), Spirits of Fire – Embrace the Unknown (2022), Loch Vostok – Opus Ferox – The Great Escape (2021)