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Phragments - All Towers Must Fall (2016) - Review

Band: Phragments
Album title: All Towers Must Fall
Release date: 1 July 2016
Label: Malignant Records

01. All Towers Must Fall
02. The Iron Well
03. The First Still Burns
04. Withdrawal
05. Defiance
06. Into Nothing

Phragments already have an impressive discography, over the last ten years they have released a number of albums on various labels. Yet, Phragments seems to have really came into their own sound over these last three releases on Malignant Records: Earth Shall Not Cover Their Blood, New Kings And New Queens, and this latest release All Towers Must Fall. They appear to have turned in their early use of the orchestral industrial sound and are keen on focusing all energy into the dark ambient soundscapes of their more recent albums. On All Towers Must Fall, Phragments follows this trend, building an album which is quintessentially dark ambient in its presentation. Slowly oscillating deep drones are the base of All Towers Must Fall. The percussion often used throughout previous Phragments albums has been discarded for All Towers Must Fall. Instead what we are given, as a means to understand the martial elements of this record, are bone-rattlingly eerie war horns. The horns ring out in several tracks, giving the listener the feeling that things are beginning to get serious, that the battle is commencing. The entirety of All Towers Must Fall possesses a deeply atmospheric experience. There are not many sounds here to cue any specific events taking place during the story. Yet, with multiple listens and taking the track titles into consideration, a story, and possibly even a linear timeline begins to unfold, however subtly.

The opening track, "All Towers Must Fall", seems to drop the listener into some war-torn realm. We find ourselves behind the walls of some besieged city-scape as invaders are preparing their attack. We seem to hear an assault on the city beginning, a scenario which will play out through the rest of the album. "The Iron Well" takes the location of inside some building within this apocalyptic landscape, as total devastation rages on outside its walls. Deep rolling drones over-lay rumbling field recordings, as if we are hearing the great war of our world outside, everything is being devastated, humanity is devouring itself. Later in the track, a lonely synth note rings out over the devastation, which seems to only add more tension, as if we are focusing in on one survivor, cowering in a corner and losing their composure as the world is crumbling around them. "The Fire Still Burns" is highly atmospheric and downright unsettling. Another deep drone oscillates as if it is some sort of massive machinery. Monolithic rumblings reverberate throughout the track, which could be interpreted as the sound of a raging inferno. Later, a futuristic-feeling electronic sound takes the forefront, lending to a sense that events are taking place in modernity or the near future, which is helpful in better understanding the theme, as this album could be interpreted as taking place in various different periods of time. "Withdrawal" brings more deep rumbling drones, as sounds of crumbling infrastructure build the basis of the track, but on "Withdrawal" there is more of a musical element. In the forefront is a lonely synth note slowly repeating, which almost reminds me of something I would hear on an Atrium Carceri album. This is accompanied by a deep bassy note that keeps repeating, and to connect it to the overarching story-line, this note gives me the feeling of an alarm sounding, telling the people of the city, or this tower, to get out immediately. As they move away these louder bassy sounds recede further into the background and the lonely synth note continues to ring out clearly in the foreground. As the track draws to a close we here that same horn-like sound from the opening of the album. "Defiance" starts subdued, but then the suspense begins building, as rumbling drones become clearer, and another bone-chilling note rings out in the background, as if warning off anyone unlucky enough to still be in the vicinity. "Defiance" feels as if the protagonists of the story, having already begun their retreat, have decided to make a last ditch effort to hold control of their lands. If this is the case, it seems they must have failed miserably, as there is surely no light at the end of this tunnel. "Into Nothing" seems to pick up on the same theme as the previous track, where things go wrong in the last attempt at controlling their lands. There is now only one inevitable outcome, the survivors are now becoming targeted and losing their lives in the process, leading to their eventual defeat and mass casualties.

All Towers Must Fall was released on vinyl, in addition to the usual formats. This album is perfect for a vinyl release in all aspects. The cover-art depicts an nondescript massive tower-like structure, which may have possibly already begun to crumble in the foreground. Behind the all black tower appears to be the details of some sort of art carved into marble or stone. This background is shown in even more detail on the reverse-cover. This vague yet powerful imagery gives the listener plenty of visual material to ponder as they are listening to the album. The album is split into six tracks which are all over six minutes in length. With the first track "All Towers Must Fall" and the fourth track "Withdrawal" both featuring that war-horn-like noise, the album is able to be beautifully split down the middle, giving both halves a recurring theme and a point of reference to hold a true continuity from one side to the other, but also to give it the feeling of a second chapter beginning. Lastly, the album takes on the feeling of an older styled dark ambient album, with less focus on crisp-clear soundscapes, and more on a decaying post-apocalyptic atmosphere, which seems to be much better suited to the vinyl format, as it adds to the gritty and less digitized over-all feel of All Towers Must Fall.

As a whole All Towers Must Fall is a magnificent album. The sounds are captivating, all lending themselves to the theme, yet working from more of a soundscape perspective than one of a narration, giving just enough details to build the world in one's mind without taking away the fun of letting our imaginations run wildly in all directions. Phragments have perfectly balanced the rumbling drones with subtlety. We are able to realize the devastation which is being depicted, and we feel it in our bones, yet it never becomes too overwhelming. This is the type album that I could listen to several times in a row, without losing interest or going mad, which is no small feat given the massive rumbling drones which build the foundation of the album. I would highly recommend All Towers Must Fall to fans of dark ambient acts like Yen Pox and other Malignant Records artists who have less of a focus on the cinematic and more on the evolving structure and soundscapes etched into the album's core. There is surely a cinematic element here, but it doesn't ever necessarily take the lead. From the album art to the theme and its execution, All Towers Must Fall hits the mark and brilliantly depicts a war-torn world in the midst of its devastation. Turn out the lights and crank the volume to become fully engulfed in this apocalyptic scenario.

Review written by: Michael
Rating: 8.5/10