Album Review: Phaneronaut – Anabasis

Band: Phaneronaut | Album:Anabasis | Genre: Zeuhl, Post-rock, Progressive electronic | Year: 2022

From: Munich, Germany | Label: Independent

For fans of: Magma, Pink Floyd c. 1969, Dreadnaught, Faust


Phaneronaut is a one-man project out of Germany with an inclination for weird, experimental electronics and sharp contrasts in tone. In the three years the project has been active, they have been quite prolific, so I have not listened to their whole back catalog. What I have heard, though, is strongly reminiscent of early krautrock acts, often landing somewhere between Neu! and The Cosmic Jokers.

This album, then, marks something of a shift in Phaneronaut’s sound. Originally envisioned as having two contrasting halves–a “wood” side and a “metal” side–the project evolved into something else, though the “metal” concept remained. Thus, where previous works are synth heavy and quite electronic, Anabasis features sounds (synthesized or otherwise) that use metal in their production. So the celestial synths of earlier works are reduced, and now there are much earthier tones, meant to portray a (possibly hallucinatory) journey to heaven.

Gentle pings from what sounds like a hang drum open the album on “Canto One: Chorale”, making for a vaguely Eastern, meditative feel. About a minute in, however, low and aggressive brass barges in, upsetting that tranquil intro. As the song progresses, the feeling shifts from ominous to awe-inspiring before rather abruptly stopping.

“Canto Two: The Waiting Room” is spare in its first moments, featuring primarily percussion and the odd stab of staticky noise. Fizzling synthesizers begin to swirl, lending a sense of anxiety to the air. Juice harp and banjo eventually come to make up the background as a mournful trumpet takes the lead. The earlier electronic elements rejoin the fray for a truly unique textural experiment. The track ends on a dramatic bit of brass which sounds like the doors of the titular waiting room being thrown open.

Jittery, Magma-ish electric piano and chanting kicks off “Canto Three: Celestial Hymns”. The influence of Üdü Ẁüdü is obvious in the hypnotic bassline, though the vocals are perhaps a bit closer to monastic chanting than Magma’s interplanetary choir. An extended (synthesized) guitar solo takes the lead, and the song moves through a few different moods, ranging from dark to hopeful. The song slows down around its midpoint, but the composition and playing is no less great. Themes from earlier in the song are revisited near the end, and it eventually culminates in a haunting climax.

Synthesizers reminiscent of frogs or birds open up “Canto Four: Eternal Bliss” alongside some acidic synth loops. Weird, found-sound percussion and fluttery vocal synths add to the disorienting atmosphere of this track’s opening. As this piece evolves, it becomes smoother and gentler, featuring female vocals and some lovely, warm bass.

Anabasis ends on “Canto Five: Downward”, and its opening synth drone and brass are fittingly mournful. The percussion pounds out a doom-laden pattern, and some dissonant cymbals add a lot of depth. When synthesizers reemerge, they’re bouncy with a deviant edge. Long blasts of brass swell alongside these synths, leading to a nearly-overwhelming wall of sound. Things eventually thin out, turning into a haunting bit of minimal percussion which draws strongly from gamelan music. The sense of disorienting doom continues as earlier themes are revisited, until everything drops out in the final minute for a simple piano outro.

This latest release from Phaneronaut is difficult to classify. It draws from their past in electronica, as well as zeuhl, avant-prog, film scores, and music from around the world. But this seeming hodgepodge gels marvelously and makes for a fantastic record.

Score: 90/100

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