We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
OK, on paper it looks like a terrible idea: techno-metal fusion. That’s the shit they play in Vin Diesel movies, right? Well, in reality—or at least Phantomsmasher’s reality—it doesn’t suck. Which has everything to do with the virtual band (ne Atomsmasher) steering clear of the most rote, mechanistic aspects of both genres. Like locals Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Octis, Phantomsmasher exploits technology in the interest of superhuman speed. On “Digit Dirt” and “Halibut Jones,” on the group’s self-titled debut, grindcore superstar Dave Witte’s heart-attack drumming is laptopped into even faster, glitchy blurs that make percussion-tweakers Aphex Twin and Autechre sound like boring ol’ Moby. But unlike his extreme-music peers, Phantomsmasher mastermind and longtime New York noise rocker James Plotkin seems interested in cranking out tracks that resemble actual songs. And surprisingly enough, the guy—who is here credited with “synthi” and “wave editing” as well as bass and guitar—has a real knack for melody. On the album-opening “Bishop Hopping,” blast beats and DJ Speedranch’s AudioMulched vocals career into beautiful clean guitars and a slur of computer-manipulated percussion. Then the whole thing dissolves into a tinkling music-box interlude. In lesser hands—say, those of just about any postrock band—this kind of progression would surely become sonic wallpaper. But Plotkin & Co. are never far away from a cut ‘n’ paste shift that would do both Burroughs and the Boredoms proud. “Slobtronic,” for example, centers around a fairly conventional Hendrixian guitar riff but also manages to throw plenty of thick metal drumming and demented haunted-house vocals at ya. And “Scrolling Sideways” shifts back and forth between proggy synth hooks and godawful screaming noise. As an arranger, Plotkin clearly gets off on letting you know he can write really accessible—shit, almost poppy—rock and also absolutely shred your speaker cones. It’s a brilliant balance. And it works because it’s not just a gimmick: When “Halibut Jones” fades into a breakup-sad acoustic-guitar motif that’s randomly underscored by noisy bursts of snare and double-kick drums, it’s clear that Plotkin loves both extremes equally. —Brent Burton