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Fantomas: Director's Cut

By Phil Morehart · October 18th, 2001 · CD of the Week

There are many things in life that are just plain scary: haunted houses, graveyards, watching horror films alone in the dark, just to name a few. They dig up a primordial fear from deep within the bowels. It's a fascinating feeling; an inescapable intensity that keeps bringing you back for more.

Add The Director's Cut, the new album by experimental metal/mind-fuck artists Fantomas to this list of the beautifully frightening.

In a music industry where mediocrity and blandness are the keys to the city of success, Fantomas is the antithesis. Consisting of former Faith No More vocalist and current Mr. Bungle frontman Mike Patton, guitarist Buzz Osborne from The Melvins, bassist Trevor Dunn also of Mr. Bungle, and legendary drummer Dave Lombardo formerly of Slayer, this supergroup is anything but conventional. They have forged a sound that is menacing, brutal and precise, but also containing a lot of grace and class.

With their self-titled 1998 release, Fantomas presented the world with a new and improved version of metal. They disregarded and disposed of traditional song structure to find a style completely their own.

The album was organized like a comic book, with the music broken down into frames, thirty in all. Each "song," or frame, contained action, emotion, and suspense, but conveyed through music rather than words or images.

The songs were schizophrenic. Patton, who is possibly the best vocalist in music today, used his voice as an instrument ­ screaming, moaning, and singing indecipherably. Osborne, Dunn and Lombardo provided a tight, intense backdrop with the ability to switch style and speed on a dime.

The music on the album owed more to avant garde musicians like John Zorn and John Cage than to the world of heavy metal. Together with hard-hitters like Tool, they provided a much-needed breath of fresh air in a Korn and Limp Bizkit-ized light-on-substance, heavy-on-posturing metal world.

With The Director's Cut, Fantomas' second album, the band tackles various scores from 1950s through 1990s horror/cult films. Soundtrack music by definition is composed to elicit emotions and to set mood. Style and form are often thrown out the door in favor of tone. Fantomas does just this with their own original music, so it's no surprise that they would choose to cover movie scores for an entire album. It's no surprise that they do it so well either.

The album opens serenely. The lone introductory notes to Nino Rota's classic theme to the film, The Godfather, echo hauntingly before erupting into metal insanity. A song that was instantly familiar mutates into a powerful speed metal anthem before floating back into familiar calm.

Fantomas' treatment of Rota's work reveals another aspect of the score and of the film itself. The pain, triumph and tradition of the Corleone Family are at the forefront of the piece, as Rota intended, but by electrifying the song, Fantomas pulls the themes out into the forefront even more than before and shines a spotlight on them.

The same can be said of the rest of the songs on the album. By reconstructing the music, but still remaining true to the composers' and the films' intent, Fantomas creates versions that are just as important and vital as the originals.

Scores that in their original form had the capacity to terrify have become even more intense and more apt to fulfill their purpose. The reworked theme to Roman Polanski's film, Rosemary's Baby, is possibly the most frightening track on the album. Accompanied by a child's toy piano, Mike Patton's voice has the ability to send chills down the spine. Already a creepy song, the Fantomas treatment of this Christopher Komeda number is one that will keep you awake at night.

The Director's Cut makes a bold and important statement: The scores of films are more akin to classical pieces than to traditional music. Because of this, they should be and need to be interpreted and reworked in order to keep them alive and in the public domain.

Fantomas' album is not only a wonderful, finely executed, creepy album; it is also a piece of both music and cinematic history.



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