The Fantômas have recently released a film to go with their live album, Director’s Cut, the tribute to, known and obscure, cult film theme music. The opening credits roll in as they appropriately perform their live salute to the Godfather in San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. Rosemary’s Baby and Twin Peaks are among the other covers. They have been labled as an “avant-garde metal super group” and one critic has referred to them as “dada metal,” (or anti-music) in reference to “dada art,” the movement associated with Marcel Duchamp, which challenged previous expectations on what constituted art. Abrasively erratic, their music at first sounds like an acoustic coup d’étet, but it’s not irrational. The Fantômas (amazing front man, Mike Patton and his troupe of Buzz Osborne, Trevor Dunn and Dave Crover, sub-ing in for Dave Lombardo) are putting forward very well thought-out music that is executed on its highest level- no easy feat considering how hard it must be to perform each one of these songs live. Most might write the songs off as something too unfamiliar to appreciate and unfortunately since metal has been characterized by more brawn than brain type work, it might be one of those realizations that is only acknowledged in hindsight. I hope their album doesn’t end up in a museum one day only for the one with a Yoshimoto Nara cover, because the music itself is part of the art. Maybe the film will give these guys a chance to be appreciated outside of just their core, metal fan-boy base.
Their conceptual creations are more in the realm of “experimental sound and noise,” provoking thoughts and emotions, like conventional music, but not with the traditional rhythms and patterns. Other musicians have been experimenting with noise, alternative instruments and sounds, but the Fantômas compositions and presentation of them are more than novel attempts to try something different. They have embraced it and are fully committed to delivering that experience. Listening to them incites creative thought, but the sounds are not something to just sit around and listen to at any time, in fact the album should come with the warning label of “do not operate heavy machinery or listen to after a break-up,” and it’s not a good accompaniment for dinner or while sitting in 405 freeway traffic, but I actually like it so much that I listen to it when I’m home by myself and in the mood to think: shower time, running time, cooking time and creative time. (Sounds strange, but give it a try- you’ll feel like Dr. Frankenstein.)
My first Fantômas album was their fourth, Suspended Animation, which I admit to having bought for it’s album design while flipping through CD’s in an obscure Italian music shop in Turin. It must have been fate because I am now a dedicated repeat customer of both. Suspended Animation is accompanied with a limited edition calendar illustrated by the Japanese contemporary artist, Yoshimoto Nara. His sardonic artwork of temperamentally “cute” characters provides the perfect punctuation to the thirty songs that are named by their corresponding calendar day. The songs are music compilations sampled with cartoon sounds, nursery rhymes, whimsical tracks, jarring noises and chords inspired by the month of April and its lesser recognized “holidays.”
I remember when Pink Floyd released The Wall and I vaguely recall another musician jokingly saying that instead of going on tour, they were just going to put films out as well, but to me rather than detracting from the music, it provided a new dimension for the album. In the case of the Fantômas, I think that’s a brilliant idea because this allows a broader group to understand what is behind their work. They have already established ties to the visual art world, so maybe this will be the start of a cinematic collaboration. (I have my fingers crossed.) Their name and self titled first album references the French suspense crime novels, comics, television and film series, Fantômas. The second album, Director’s Cut, is directly tied with its references to cinematic sound tracks and the fourth album, Suspended Animation is also a parallel audio-visual collaboration with Nara. Their run-on, seventy-four minute “single,” Delirium Cordia relates to having surgery without anesthesia, but it should actually be described as the antipathic response to Warhol’s five hour film, Sleep. Putting the Fantômas into just the categories of experimental metal or even concept music seems limiting of the full scope that their work straddles in the visual, audio and artistic genres.
The Fantômas are thought provoking and jaw droppingly refreshing for the topsy-turvy emotional journey that their chaotic sounds will take you. A bit like the roller-coaster, when your cart reaches the top of the elevator shaft and you nervously anticipate the free-fall, or like being on a bus in Latin America, you somehow feel exhilarated from the adrenelin rush of not knowing when they will slam on the breaks or what will come up at the next blind curve. If you can go with it and embrace the chaos, the Fantômas are a creative force that can take you to some surprising places.
Video of performance of Director’s Cut – Twin Peaks:
Video of performance of Director’s Cut – Cape Fear:
Video of performance of Director’s Cut – Godfather:
Video of performance of Director’s Cut – Rosemary’s Baby:
Yoshimoto Nara video:
References and links:
BAM Magazine: http://nirrosive.tripod.com/articles/article10.txt.