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FANTOMAS - London Astoria - 17 July 2001   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Tuesday, 14 September 2004
it's a long way to the top if you wanna rock n' roll. And It's a long way down.

And it's a long way down from even half way. When you start that slippery slide form public eye, when someone newer younger, more desperate and more unoriginal arrives, you know your time is numbered. There's two distinct ways you can go. But either way points down.

One proves you only ever wanted the money : you do anything you can to keep your face in the press and the media, your records are multiformatted and cheap, your music diluted to appeal, and your desperation smells like that of a hormonal young man, apparent to all around you. It's ugly and desperate, clinging to the burning embers of mainstream success.

The other way proves you really couldn't give a shit about being one MTV. You abandon the multinational record company game, record an album a year and release it on your own label, play gigs anywhere you can find, and record albums as wilfully perverse as you want, because its your life, and you've got the chance to do what you want for a change. And to confuse, amuse, and bemuse the fans who want to hear you playing the old songs with the new band.

Mike Patton's Fantomas fall into the latter category. On paper the phrase "metal supergroup" has been bandied about by the ill-informed. Seeing as the line up features ex-members of Faith No More, Slayer, the Melvins, and Mr. Bungle, you can be fairly sure it ain't gonna sound like Britney Spears. At a guess it would sound like a carcrash. And for portions of the evening you're right. But nothing could've prepared you for this. A set comprised of eclectic film soundtrack covers, and excerpts from their ‘difficult' debut album see a set that is described at best as funny in a serious kind of way.

A typical Fantomas song sounds like this, even though to call them songs is generous. Lyrics are largely dispensed with in favour of worldess operatics, grunting, screaming, and chanting. Songs come in two forms. Wordless, ambient soundscapes built on drum cymbal crashes and guitar tweakage as Mike effortlessly falsettos lyrics like "eeewooooooooeeeooooo chakahkachakachakachaka", and breakneck thrash interludes (normally between two and twenty seconds long). Drums punctuate the air, guitars stutter, and Mike Patton makes sounds that astound and sound right, just not coming from a human mouth. It's like watching a heavy metal orchestra showing just how many styles they can play masterfully, without ever spending longer than 10 seconds at any of them. They do thrash, opera, ambient soundscapes, horror soundtracks, the heaviest metal riffing known to man, and even little jazzy interludes. All in the same song. And then they cover the American national anthem.  

It makes Mr. Bungle, the band that Warners signed in a fit of enthusiasm for £100,000 10 years ago (and then released the album because they'd spent so much money, they had to get it back somehow), sound positively commercial. Hell, compared to this Mr. Bungle have lyrics and choruses.

The oversubscribed crowd do two things. One jump around like loons and stagedive. Two, stand around bewildered. It's talent. It's bollocks. It's the fine line between the two called genius. Dave Lombardo models a backwards baseball cap (ala Fred Durst) and a vest (ala Whitesnake), Buzz Melvin is the metal Sideshow Bob, Trevor Dunn is the only man to masterbate on the London Eye, according to Mike anyway, who spends the whole set crouched behind a keyboard screaming away and jumping up and down, before pulling silly faces and singing angelically at the assembled throng. But Mike can still make a career in comedy. 

"How's London? Cold and Shitty? Hot and Pissy? This is our latest hit single." He says before playing a 30 second noisefest with no lyrics, no tune, and no set ending.

Don't come to this expecting tunes you can whistle. Don't come to it expecting anything. Don't expect anything resembling conventional verse-chorus-verse music. Don't think for one second they give a toss if you buy the record. When people say, we don't care if it sells, we're doing this for ourselves (ahh, that old cliches), this is the way it should be. Just enjoy four grown men making the most bizarre noise in the world because they can and because it feels good and because it makes them laugh....


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