Album Review: KINGS DESTROY Fantasma Nera
Brooklyn quintet Kings Destroy has always excelled at putting a modern sheen on vintage fundamentals. Part doom/heavy metal and part stoner rock, their multifaceted aesthetic has yielded three winning studio LPs that, to shifting degrees, intermingle sing-along hooks, stylish transitions, and cathartically hostile foundations. Fittingly, their follow-up to 2015’s self-titled collection, Fantasma Nera, once again nails that balance. At once contemporarily fresh and classically familiar, the collection undoubtedly delivers everything fans of the group—and the genres—could want.
Produced and mixed by David Bottrill (King Crimson, Tool), Fantasma Nera finds Kings Destroy “confront[ing] the inward as well as the outward” in an attempt to showcase “a wider creative breadth than anything they’ve done before.” In particular, guitarist Carl Porcaro notes that they “put the songs first and let the material dictate the means by which the album was created” (rather than fine-tuning the songs live before putting them down officially, as they’d done before). Porcaro’s six-string co-pilot, Chris Skowronski, adds that they “took the songwriting much more seriously” this time around, resulting in a lengthier yet “really fun and creative” process. Lastly, singer Stephen Murphy confesses, “I was mentally and physically broken from the effort. I did not sing again for two months after [Fantasma Nera] was recorded.” Without a doubt, Bottrill’s skill behind the scenes helps each member shine individually and collectively from beginning to end.
Naturally, opener “The Nightbird” establishes Kings Destroy’s knack for entrancingly crunchy riffs, domineering rhythms, invigorating backing shouts, and healthily gruff outcries a la Troy Sanders (Mastodon) or the late, great Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister (Motörhead). Later, “Unmake It” seizes a similar vibe, whereas “Barbarossa” actually channels Ghost (and, by default, then, Blue Öyster Cult) in its smoother and more radio-friendly drive. Midway in, “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse” stands out for its multilayered, glam rock-esque guitar frenzies (plus repeatedly humorous chants of “You’ve got your head right up your own ass” and “Can’t you hear them rumble up above? / Yeah, you’re fucked.”) Not to be outdone, “Seven Billion Drones” is relatively psychedelic and epic, while closer “Stormy Times” offsets its slightly mundane trajectory with an overarching tone of apocalyptic finality.
Nearly every piece here also has some beguilingly and laudably lighter movements, with a few selections fairing particularly well in that regard. For instance, the title track periodically drifts along a spacy segue comprised of tribal percussion and interlocking clean guitar lines; likewise, “Dead Before” is primarily an atmospheric dirge—which makes Murphy’s eventual roars of “It’s all true / There is no finish line” even more impactful by contrast—and the winding grooves of “You’re the Puppet” chiefly recall the soaring ethereality of 1970s classic rock as a whole. Thus, Kings Destroy is as adept at implementing commanding brashness as they are at crafting transcendental changeovers.
Fantasma Nera may be Kings Destroy’s best effort to date, which is truly saying something. The sequence flows very well while also ensuring that each entry offers its own mesmerizing features (be they catchy vocal passages, gripping guitar motifs, or inviting rhythms). There’s a consistent and almost oxymoronic juxtaposition between its wide accessibility and potentially discriminating grittiness, too, that makes the full-length engagingly disobedient yet welcoming. Most of all, it shows the group perfecting its mixture of nostalgia and newness in ways that all stylistic aficionados will appreciate.