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Fantomas

Christ, what a weird band.

Former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton is loudly creating an unparalleled body of work within the avant-metal genre, using two different supergroups--Tomahawk (a more conventional, song-based outfit starring former members of Helmet and Jesus Lizard) and Fantomas (the most experimental metal band ever, featuring members of the Melvins and Slayer)--and his own label, Ipecac.

Forget the bungling prog-rock perversions of Mr. Bungle (another Patton side project). The man's rare genius is slowly blossoming into full-blown, self-nurtured, literary-minded psychopathology.

Consider the album art for Fantomas' brand-new, 55-minute masterpiece (essentially one really long track), Delirium Cordia: Surgical Sound Specimens From the Museum of Skin. It's made up of photos from Max Aguilera-Hellweg's book The Sacred Heart: pictures of surgeons coldly carving up live human beings. There's even a quote from famed writer/surgeon Richard Melzer, making the connection between the scalpel and musical composition.

Fantomas' music is even more ambitious. The band's earlier albums--1999's Fantomas (a page-by-page sonic adaptation of the French crime/horror comic from which the band takes its name) and 2001's The Director's Cut (covers of horror-film scores from Rosemary's Baby and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer)--were just warm-ups for the glory that is Delirium Cordia. (The only thing that comes close to matching the power and scope of this collection is Sleep's Jerusalem, an hour-long, Sabbath-copping, stoner-rock ode to marijuana.) I would definitely discourage the listener from taking drugs prior to playing this CD. Or driving a car. Or eating. This album demands concentration, in order to appreciate its roller-coaster-from-hell qualities. At most, one could maybe get away with popping in Jesus Franco's The Diabolical Dr. Satan on the VCR--but even that's risky.

Delirium delivers one nightmare after another in rapid succession. Patton channels scary sounds: demons hissing, angels dying, God killing. There are no lyrics, just guttural squalling, squeaking, squawking. His band is equally adept at creating evil noise: Drummer Dave Lombardo pounds with primal abandon. Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne conjures black-souled feedback and nightmarish distortion. At times, it's overwhelming, exhausting, but that's the point: to push metal music into a completely post-symphonic realm, where Fantomas' real influences lie: John Cage, Arnold Schoenberg, Philip Glass.

Thinking man's metal? Not really. Because just when you think Fantomas is heading into avant-classical territory, Lombardo and Osborne arrive, dive-bombing you with Satanic majesty.

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