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Posted on January 21st, 2013 (9:30 am) by Ben Welton

For those not in the know, “Phoebus” is one of the many names of Apollo, one of the Olympian deities, and an important one to boot. A god of light and the sun, Apollo is consistently depicted as a beardless youth with taut muscles and an athletic frame. When it first came to fruition as a recognizable scene somewhere around 1980, hardcore punk’s frenetic energy and sonic assault were perfectly blended with the appearance of most hardcore kids: shaven heads, beardless faces, and a fashion sense that Ray Cappo, the lead singer of youth crew titans Youth of Today, once described as “Tony Hawk meets Beaver Cleaver” in Beth Lahickey’s All Ages: Reflections on Straight Edge (1997). Even though the look and sound of hardcore punk has changed over the years (as it should), the one thing that has stayed steady is energy — raw, intense, and undiluted pep. Cortez, a hardcore/post metal act from Switzerland, don’t sound like the hardcore your parents either loved or feared, but their disjointed, erratic, and mathematical music is undeniably a child of the more interesting and progressive strands of the subculture.

Again, for those of you who are not yet hip, Switzerland isn’t the musical Antarctica you might imagine it to be. Besides being the unlikely location for most of the Hammer Dracula films starring Christopher Lee, Switzerland is also home to some of extreme metal's most influential bands, namely Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Coroner. While the former articulated an early hybrid of death/thrash/black metal, the latter was one of the earliest acts to bring incredible technicality and progressive rock ideas to the denim-clad world of thrash metal. These two Swiss bands helped to forge the extreme metal underground, and their influence can even be found on Phoebus, the latest release from Cortez, a band whose name couldn't be any less metal.

It is important to note Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Coroner hail from Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city and the cultural hub of that country’s German-speaking majority. Cortez are closer to Geneva, Switzerland’s largest French-speaking city. As such, Phoebus has none of the victorious-und-glorious character of Germanic music. Phoebus is a cerebral record mixing mathcore-like assailing with the progressive tendencies of Bayonne’s Gojira, the undisputed kings of French tech death. Phoebus is not a death metal album, but it does contain some of that genre’s love of off-beat technicality. Cortez are more influenced by American acts such as Botch, Converge, and Dillinger Escape Plan, and as such, their technicality is less about guitar acrobatics and more about time signature changes, unusual approaches, and disorientating songs that come close to sounding like muscular art rock.

The album’s sunrise, “Temps-mort,” is a slowly building opener climaxing into a rumbling clash of drums and moving, free-form guitar lines. “Temps-mort” suffers from being a little too drum-heavy, and the song’s production is too saturated on the low end, which almost cancels out the bright-sounding guitars. Luckily, the hiccup of “Temps-mort” is not repeated on “Transhumance,” a sludgy rocker with plenty of guts and that sturm und drang quality that makes a million heandbangers every day. “Transhumance” combines the chromatic scaling guitar work of Norwegian black metal with laryngitis-inflamed vocals that bark and shriek right into the eardrums. Therein lies the essential heart of Phoebus, but this record has a full skeletal system; one organ is not enough.

“Idylle” is the album’s shiftiest track, what with its brief blimps of melody and harmonic instrumentation. But don’t be too fooled: “Idylle” is still a hard and heavy song, and so too is the crunchy “Sulfure.” “Sulfure” has the same high and low quality as any song from Take as Needed for Pain, but Cortez manage to get their highs above the muck line, whereas Eyehategod continually remain mired in their own Louisiana filth. “Nos souvenirs errants” has technical flaws similar to “Temps-mort,” but that particular song gets a free pass because it sounds like an intentional wave of sound, which will sound absurd to those listeners unaccustomed to hardcore or metal music.

Despite technical flaws, Phoebus is a quality record aptly purveying the eclectic sounds of modern hardcore. It is at once experimental and straight forward; it’s jangly and heavy. While songs like “Borrelia” experiment with instrumental passages and digital equipment, other tracks such as “L’autre estime” serve up meat and potatoes style melodic metal. Phoebus is that type of record sure to be popular with both hardcore kids and metalheads, two once-warring factions who have been friends since the mid-eighties. The struggle for Phoebus is winning over people outside of the metallic underground, and it appears to me this is not that record. Phoebus is closer to We Are the Romans than Never Mind the Bullocks, and even the allure of le français will not help to make this record any more attractive to the casual listener.

Track List:
1. Temps-mort
2. Transhumance
3. Au delà des flots
4. Arrogants que nous sommes
5. Un ledemain sans chaine...
6. L'autre estime
7. Sulfure
8. Nos souvenirs errants
9. Idylle
10. Borrelia

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