The slavering cult-following that has developed around Mike Patton over the past couple of decades has been somewhat without a golden idol, Patton-wise, for some time. After Faith No More (really just a weird, lucrative sidestep) and since the dissolution of Mr. Bungle, there has been no central focus of the Pattonverse, rather a general and many-veined pursuit of all manner of musical exploration. Now, however, it seems as though Fantomas, the quartet of Patton, Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne, Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn, and Slayer drumotaur Dave Lombardo have grown to the throne.
On their 1999 self-titled debut, Fantomas defined their style briskly--a pepper-spray of fractured grindcore with small doses of the operatic mega-drama and genre-biting chicanery of Mr. Bungle. Similarly, Patton defined his own role in the band--a wordless instrument whose palette was a weird mélange of death metal growls, cartoonish Valkyrie falsetto, and Indonesian monkey chant. Undeniably, Fantomas owed a large debt to John Zorn's epochal Naked City, the style-hopping, hardcore-fucking jazz A-Team that for many were the shining zenith of New York's experimental scene of the '80s and early '90s. Unlike Naked City (or Mr. Bungle for that matter) however, Fantomas jettisoned a lot of the shock-and-awe genre shifts and jolting humor for a more streamlined and brutal model.
Their two most recent albums, the just-released Suspended Animation and last year's Delerium Cordia illustrate how Fantomas have developed beyond a "project" or supergroup vanity ballsfest into a decidedly for-real band. Though it's ostensibly a tribute to cartoon music and a multimedia concept record (30 songs for the 30 days of April, as illustrated by Japanese artist Yoshimoto Nara) Suspended Animation feels like the most complete and focused statement of Fantomas as a band thus far. It is an exhilarating record--the assault feels simultaneously more pop and more head cutting than ever before, and the songs are seasoned liberally with circuit-bent bleeps and 8-bit doodles.
Conversely, Delerium Cordia feels like the recorded equivalent of Jacob's Ladder--the moment of death stretched out to a nightmarish Homeric journey. With lots of unsettling space and a general ambience of clinical pain, Delerium Cordia melds the doom synths and guitars of black metal with the sort of choral mourning of 20th Century composers like Arvo Part and Alfred Schnittke. It is the Marianas Trench to Suspended Animation's sun-dappled swimming pool, but together the pair paint a truly exciting picture of Fantomas' future.