“Caldera” is an album by Alternative-Rock/Grunge band Phantom Suns.
Based in Burlington, Vermont (USA), Phantom Suns is Seth Gundersen (vocals/guitar), Chris Mathieu (vocals, drums, percussions), and Ryan Cohen (vocals/bass). Collectively, Phantom Suns has created an album that will give Alt. Rock/Grunge fans LIFE!
It has been awhile since we have heard music that excites and ignites the music senses - so glad the wait is over.
“Caldera” surely brings the heat and the element of amazement to its listeners with brash song introductions, quiet verses, loud choruses, candid lyrics, and organic riffs and melodies. This is an album for the quasi-romantic, the one who knows that you’re going to have breakups, that there are going to be bad relationships, and that life has sunny days and rainy days. Yes, “Caldera” contains songs that are brutally honest, but also hopeful. Not hopeful in the sense of fairytales, but hopeful in that life is what you make of it.
So, it’s time to dive into the hot-spot - a 12-track brass knuckle package of forty-two minutes and twenty-one seconds:
- Probably Wrong
- Trial by Stone
- Perpetual Motion Holder
- Hush Money
- It Won’t Stop
- Olympus Mons
Being that the album’s title is mirrored off a real caldron, it’s filled with robust, honest, unapologetic, songs about real life, so I will interpret the five songs that sit at the album’s core.
We start with the opening track “Forget” that has an expressive foundation built on layers of harmonies and modulations as well as spirited guitars and hot percussions. The lyrics sing: You've been too long undercover, time to brush away the clutter, paint it all your favorite color and bask in the glow. Consequence could come and bite you in the ass. Why does such a good time have to hurt so bad? That's the price you pay. Searching for the key to unlock all your potential when you don't know what you think. But what you think you know is only your opinion . . .. Stop regretting things that haven't happened yet, 'cause you never know. It was clever to start the album with a song about living without regrets and learning to forget. The music and technique of this particular song perfectly highlights each member’s skill.
The third song of the collection starts out gloomy with a low distorted guitar riff and then slowly climbs into a medium-paced track. “Disposable” retells the lesson of whatever you do comes back to you, but there’s a twist, as it is not the protagonist of the song stating this fact about themselves, instead he is relating this to another person (probably a lover). The lyrics point out the premise, singing: It seems you've grown quite accustomed to your lifestyle. You like to think that you own the whole world. But you can't buy your way out this time. You can't buy your way out. Watch your castle crumble all around you, just because you want more than you can handle. Your obsession weighs you down. You're disposable now. The song’s tempo plays between fast and mellow throughout the cut adding to the determination of the vocal story. Often, many Grunge singers just yell and do not pay attention to the vocal itself as they are aiming for sound verses professional vocal effect; but with Phantom Suns, surprisingly, Gundersen, Mathieu, and Cohen are all on point and in key with their shrill-bursts, and do not bleed into the red with their flamboyant vocals. Well done!
Which brings us to “Trial by Stone” – a track that could have easily been the score for the final season of GOT (Game of Thrones) as it is rich in that medieval tributary vibe with layers of guitars and drum grooves.
Lyrically, “Trial by Stone” tells the story of humanity and our current existence: A dying world. A dying race imprisoned within themselves. Selfishly clutching his scepter he implodes on his deathbed and turns to dust right before their eyes. Two new contenders vie for the title. Slaves haul in the ceremonial stone. Swing their swords at it one by one. With one devastating strike, a smoldering chunk breaks free. The victor proudly assumes his role. They banish the loser and strip his robes. He goes off in search of last remaining ones. Can heal them all with the aligning suns. Adding to this unbridled theme is Gundersen’s resonating guitar. Moreover, Phantom Suns chose to feature a breakdown instead of a bridge, and it works so good in switching the ears on and off. In a nutshell, according to the lyrics, we are victimizing each other rather than saving the race. We do not leave stepping stones for others to follow. Sadly, we do shun individuality, and praise acceptance, pitting one against another fueled by egos. “Trial by Stone” is Alt. Rock / Grunge in every essence, but it is Contemporary in its message making it a modern Concept song. Nice social wakeup-call Phantom Suns!
And, the track with the most memorable introduction is “Perpetual Motion Holder” with that guitar arpeggio just lovingly alerting us to the “sweet sixteen” vibe. This introduction quickly becomes fueled by burning percussions and resonating accompanying guitars. This mid-tempo ballad contains a relentless core beat and tells the story of failed love and the lead character’s pain. The hooks are sung by the lead in the melody of the opening guitar riff along with harmony backing notes – it’s quite sweet and sexy too. The discordant mesh of a sorrowful love story and a spirited musical foundation makes for an infectious track. This is commercially ready and well-built.
“Olympus Mons” closes the album pretty much being the sum of all parts with its predominantly instrumental composition. Not really featuring a narrative, besides the repeated, specially placed, “One of these days I'll write some words, I was so bummed out, another Olympus Mons,” this track surprisingly has active emotion. This is played out with energetic instruments all telling their story. Gundersen’s low-note riffs play a variation of the sporadic chorus’ melody supported by Cohen and Mathieu – all framing the song’s short meditative instrumental tale. This is the first song on the album that feature synth soundscapes giving off a psychedelic vibe. “Olympus Mons” ends like a cap placed on a bottle of air – pulled pressure.
“Caldera” is very musically outspoken!!
Much like its natural geographical representation, “Caldera” is a heated hollow of molten music filled with remnants of memories, current experiences, and real-world vibes. I focused on the five hottest spots of “Caldera,” but additionally, “Lazuli,” “Mush,” “Knotweed,” “Probably Wrong,” “Hush Money,” “Brontoscorpio,” and “It Won’t Stop,” all feature that well-balanced abrasive sound that Alternative-Rock / Grunge fans dig – you get the mellow verses that climb to fever pitches in volume, and the heavy choruses that remain in the mind, all fused together like puzzle pieces with expertly played guitars and drums.
And, it is not just sticking to the genre’s typical sound that makes this band memorable, it is the way that each player incorporates their own way of playing their instrument that makes them so dynamic within the genre. Gundersen’s rhythm guitar is impressive. He knows when to pull back for the bass and the percussions to take center stage, and when to lay into the song heavily and go all in with the rhythm to enhance the melody. Same is true with Cohen’s bass.
Cohen possess a kind of ninja-skill when it comes to playing bass. His lines and licks are cosmetically sutured to each melody giving them a soul, heartbeat, and life making the songs live on in the ears of the fans. And last, but certainly not least, Mathieu’s drums and percussions.
Man, oh, man, can this man play some drums? Speak on it!! It is Mathieu who gives the songs that extra modernity with those muscled kicks, snares, crashes, bounce, bottom, command to the beats, and the timings. He can assign the right percussion to the right synth and make the song just walk or stomp. Great structuring.
I get plenty of music submissions sent my way, and after listening to, and living with, the music of Phantom Sun’s “Caldera,” they are by far the closest to Nirvana in sound that I have heard – it’s the lack of suppression when it comes to implementing their artistry. There is no holding back! You hear the screaming guitars and vocals, but you also get a storyline, and that is what makes Phantom Suns unforgettable – the takeaway. The listener is not just left with insolent noise beating on their ear drums after listening to the music, no, agreeably, they are left singing the melodies in their heads and knowing the story too.
Most Grunge / Alt. Rock bands fail to keep a storyline or threading theme in their music which makes them obsolete. But the drive that comes out of the minds, instruments, and mouths of Phantom Suns, as well as the narratives that are built on solid melodic foundations, will KEEP them recognizable, current, and a mainstay in the world of music.
“Caldera” was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Ryan Cohen at Robot Dog Studio, Williston VT. All lyrics by Seth Gundersen, and the music was written by Phantom Suns. This album is dedicated to Dave Gunderson.