It has long been a favorite trope of music reviewers to begin an album review by presenting a list of comparisons to other artists or albums. This reviewer has resorted to that a time or two as well, but when an album and an artist such as this one comes along, that move becomes a bit difficult. I feel comfortable placing Phideaux inside of the progressive rock umbrella (long songs, theme albums and such) but he doesn’t really evoke any instant comparisons. His lyrics and melodies tend to be dour, but with a certain sneering playfulness that keeps the mood of his songs from completely wallowing in despairing musical doldrums. And so we have that unusual artist who has developed a unique sound that truly doesn’t seem to be at all derivative.
Infernal is the third, and perhaps final, part of his ‘eco-terror tale’, following the 2006 release, ‘The Great Leap’ and 2007’s Doomsday Afternoon. With the 10-year gap between part II and part III, one almost gets the sense that Phideaux was giving the planet a decade or so to see whether the final part of the story would have a hopeful ending. It doesn’t. While there doesn’t seem to be an A to Z narrative, the themes of the album, which include melting permafrost, big-brother style authoritarians exploiting a somnambulant population of placid sheep, and a soupcon of what might be alien robot overlords culminate in a picture that does not fare well for humanity or the planet Earth.
Infernal is a double album (90 minutes) broken into four sections. This first section, both lyrically and musically, quickly ties Infernal to its thematic predecessor, Doomsday Afternoon, the acapella version of “Crumble” recalling the emotional highpoint of that previous album. This minute-long track is actually a keen demonstration of Phideaux’s carefully crafted songwriting. Looking back at Doomsday, “Crumble” appears three times: the first with a full band and orchestration, the second with vocal and piano, the third with unaccompanied voice. In that continuum, one sees that the song, as the title suggests, has crumbled away musically and lyrically.
Phideaux’s compositions throughout this album are very precise. He does not include excessive musical noodling, and while, as a progger, I love excessive musical noodling, I also appreciate the craftmanship of the songs on this album that have every note in just the right place. Phideaux’s lyrics are similarly well-crafted. For example, in “The Error Lives On, we find this verse:
“Did you catch them? Did you find them and expose them so all will see? We can crack them and their obstruction and conduct them to where nobody leaves. We’ve been waiting for this dissension – yes, we all have our roles for the show – just a taste of pure investigation, let a hundred blossoms grow.”
Here, Phideaux evokes Chairman Mao’s famous 1957 speech in which he seemingly invited open criticism of the government – only to take those ‘blossoms’ who spoke up and pluck them both violently and permanently from society – to concisely show the attitude of Infernal’s government representatives towards humanity.
All in all, Infernal is an album of warning: a wake-up call to humanity that presents a veritable potpourri of possible ‘doomsday’ scenarios. Yet, despite the bleak subject matter, the album never feels oppressively melancholic. And while, in the opinion of this reviewer, Infernal doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the masterful Doomsday Afternoon, it remains a thoroughly enjoyable and original piece of art that is well worth the cost of purchase.