Phantom Elite – Titanium
Label: Frontiers Records
Release Date: January 22, 2021
Phantom Elite was born from Trillium guitarist/composer Sander Gommans’ side project, HDK. The former After Forever alum put together a group of musicians for live HDK performances, including Brazilian vocalist Marina La Torraca (Exit Eden, Avantasia). This would lead to Phantom Elite’s debut album, Wasteland in 2018. Gommans and La Torraca reunite for the band’s sophomore effort, Titanium. The album also features new members Max van Esch (guitars, bass) and Joeri Warmerdam (drums), with keyboard contributions by Koen Stam. The band’s sound is a contemporary mix of symphonic and progressive melodic metal with electronica embellishments.
While Gommans does not perform as part of the band, his fingerprints are all over the songwriting and production on Titanium. Combined with his songcraft and La Torraca’s extraordinary vocal prowess, Phantom Elite has put together an incredible record filled with an abundance of big riffs and epic melodies which all kicks off with the album opener, “Conjure Rains.” After a short build, the track takes off with a fervor. There is an Arabian undercurrent here and something of a Lacuna Coil vibe. The latter due in part La Torraca’s vocal delivery which has a Cristina Scabbia sensibility. The entire song just sounds huge and sets up the rest of the record quite nicely.
“The Race” has more of a bouncy vibe to it, but no less propulsive. Marina showcases a different side of her vocal range on this one. Joeri Warmerdam throws in some well-placed blast beats and the guitar solo from Max van Esch is spot on. This is followed by the album’s first single, “Diamonds and Dark” which opens with a poignant piano interlude before unleashing a maelstrom of metal epicness. This one fits more into the band’s symphonic wheelhouse through a modern prism stylistically. The pre-chorus has a mammoth somewhat operatic choral vocal, and La Torraca balances some soaring highs and fantastic vibrato with some perfectly balanced lower-register moments adding to the drama.
Stef Rikken cameos on the raucous, “Worst Part of Me,” serving up growls and harsh vocals to counterpoint La Torraca’s beautiful clean vocals. “Glass Crown” has a huge hooky melody, a swarming buzz like riff, and more of an accessible somewhat poppish metal bent.
Phantom Elite take a heavier more aggressive approach for the progressive beast that is the album’s title track. At 7 ½ minutes, “Titanium” is the record’s longest and sonically most expansive track. The song has more of that Arabian hue to it and van Esch gets into some real Satriani/Vai style fretwork in the song’s latter half. The track moves between frenetic and almost melancholic moments with La Torraca giving an oft emotive performance.
The amazingly talented Amanda Sommerville, Marina’s cohort in crime in their sister band, Exit Eden, drops in for a cameo on “Silver Lining.” The song is a punchy and driving atmospheric rocker. The combination of vocal styles meshes brilliantly. Sommerville, who is married to Gommans, also lends her voice to the album’s final track, “Eyes Wide Open.”
From top to bottom, Phantom Elite has delivered a stunning and divinely produced album. Titanium is packed with plenty of addictive tracks that mix bombastic and cinematic flourishes with somber and wistful moments. La Torraca’s voice is exceptional throughout and Warmerdam is on fire behind the drums. There are some djenty moments, but they are never overdone, and Max van Esch—where has this guy been hiding? He elevates every track with his fret performances on both instruments. The symphonic grandiloquence of Titanium meshes in impeccable unity with each songs’ progressive leanings. While the band’s debut, Wasteland was a solid and promising affair, Titanium takes everything to a new level. Fans of European symphonic metal will likely hear shades of bands like Epica, Amaranthe, and Delain here, so they should love this record, However, Phantom Elite has created its own signature style that goes well beyond those boundaries. We have all been waiting for 2020 to go away, and Titanium is one more reason to look forward to 2021 with renewed enthusiasm.