Phoenix’s Take Over and Destroy are, in many ways, emblematic of the state of metal today. They’re heavily versed in black metal aesthetics and vintage metal songwriting, yet never come off as beholden to either. Their music is also steeped in a sleek post-punk darkness, yet they’re not “gothic metal,” as the canon understands it (i.e. they don’t sound like Paradise Lost). It feels both familiar and modern, abrasive yet accessible. In that sense, they’re not unlike Tribulation, Tombs or on some level, even Ghost, in that they’re surely a sum of their influences—those influences just happen to add up to something that’s neither staunchly traditional nor even all that direct a translation.
Chalk it up to Take Over and Destroy’s own unique blend of kvlt herbs and spices, but what comes out the other end of their metal meat grinder is neither staid nor overtly faithful to a particular norm. On their new Prosthetic-released self-titled album, they come across as a band that’s done their homework but aren’t interested in following a format or a template (other than that of cool ’70s and ’80s horror graphic design). This is heavy metal in the classic sense of the term, evoking the dual-guitar heroics of Maiden and Priest, while reveling in the darkness of Mercyful Fate. It’s also black metal, and sludge metal, and various other things—all of which add up to a listen that scratches a certain old-school itch while offering a modern, more diverse take on a sound that appeals to the denim-vested and corpse-painted alike. (And, as is sometimes the case, the fishnet-armed.)
In a lot of ways, Take Over and Destroy are about the meat of a good metal song—riffs, choruses, a good chunky guitar tone—though they’re not without their sense of grandeur. Leadoff track “By Knife” opens with the kind of drama that’s typically reserved for epic feats of Satanism or other such occult ceremonies. It’s a brief but effective introduction to a set of songs that rarely lets the energy level drop or the tempo sputter out. “Leave the Door” ratchets up the pace while adding punchier, pounding rhythms. “Let Me Grieve” does one better by balancing a classic, instantly memorable guitar riff against an ominous goth-rock atmosphere. And the heroic harmonization of the title of “Bring Me The Rope” reveals yet another unexpected turn, almost as if a cowboy ballad a la “Ghost Riders in the Sky” somehow got mashed up with a NWOBHM cassette.
Take Over and Destroy take what they do seriously, but what they do happens to translate into some uncommonly fun metal anthems. So while there’s a degree of catharsis and intensity and even menace to their songs, their hooks stand just a little bit taller, and their melodies feel that much more crucial. Any band can do gut-wrenching menace, but it takes a certain talent to write songs that’ll stick around with you long after the candles have burned out and the blood has stopped spilling.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.