Phantom Corporation - Interview
German deathers Phantom Corporation was unknown to me till I read about the upcoming album "Fallout" (review here) although the guys behind the band aren't any newbies to the scene. Mixing some different styles like death, thrash, grind and crust together they create something unique and so I felt the urge to talk with the guys about the band in general and of course about their debut full-length. I had a very nice chat with vocalist Leif Jensen and their "new" bass player Ulf Imwiehe via Zoom shortly before the video premiere of "Spiritual Arsonists". Thanks for the interview again and enjoy reading.
Phantom Corporation was pretty unknown to me until the release of "Fallout" and I guess that most of the MetalBite readers feel the same. Could you introduce the band a little bit closer, please?
L: Phantom Corporation goes quite a way back for at least me compared to Ulf because he is the newest member in the band. We started out in 2016 as an idea between friends who were active in other bands or had played together before to do something a little bit more punk style / more DIY in a bit more d-beat direction, metal with hardcore. Marc-Andrée (Dieken; M.) who is our drummer and me just started putting up ideas for the band name, who would write the songs and who would play guitar and he brought in his friend Arne (Berents; M.) and I brought in my local friend Philipp (Schulte; M.) and we started the band. It was just meant to be a fun project and things went pretty quick when some of our mutual friends heard about the plans. One of the guys offered us a show, we recorded a couple of the first songs that we had rehearsed very quickly and had a release for the time we had the show and things went from there. We had a couple of 7"s, mini- and split-albums and "Fallout" is the first album that Phantom Corporation is releasing. That's the brief story. It was meant to be a quick joke but then it turned into a rather serious band and 7 years later we're releasing an album! Ulf actually came into the band in 2022.
U: I joined last year in May and I think three weeks later we played Obscene Extreme Festival so I had my cherry popped quite quickly (laughs).
How did you come into the band? I know that you are also playing live with Slaughterday but before that there weren't any other bands you were involved with, weren't you?
U: It's a funny story because Leif and I, we go kind of back to some place in the north of Germany where we both grew up. We made music with the same people but never together. I played in a few bands there and later on I had to decide if I want to write or if I want to make music. I decided for writing (Ulf is writing for the German print metal magazine "Deaf Forever"; M.). Year later Leif set up an interview with Tommy Stewart from Hallow's Eve, one of my all-time favorite bands. "Tales Of Terror" and "Death & Insanity" are the Holy Grail in my book. And he inspired me to pick up the bass in the first place. Leif and I stayed in contact and things fell into place when my predecessor left the band.
Leif, why didn't you just re-activate Dew-Scented instead of a new band? My guess is that this would have been a much easier way to reach the fans.
L: Hell, no! It's two very different stories and two very different approaches. Phantom Corporation was already around when Dew-Scented was still active. We actually played twice double shows and those were probably two of the worst days of my life. We were neither the opening band nor the headliner so it was sort of back to back, so very stressy days, haha. Phantom Corporation was just meant to be something different. It's less technical, Dew-Scented did ten albums and had bigger labels and Phantom Corporation was meant to be more loose and more fun. Dew-Scented was a lot fun too, but it was very serious and because of its longevity it had a certain routine that I was trying to break out from. Obviously Marc-Andrée played in Dew-Scented as well twice over the time but it was never meant to be affiliated, musically. In fact we try to trying to avoid those thrash beats we did with Dew-Scented and go more for d-beat and a more raw presentation. It's a funny and valid question because to a lot of people seem to think that one band followed the other but that was not the case. Had I known that Phantom would develop into such a serious way without noticing it, I maybe would have been against it. But it worked out to be fun even it was serious then but first it was a six pack of beer and a rehearsal room and a good evening – that was the whole idea and still is to a certain point.
Congratulations for the stunning debut album! What do you think about the press / fan feedback so far?
U: Speaking for all of us, we are actually overwhelmed. I can tell it like it is because I wasn't part of the recording or the songwriting. I came in when the recording was done and the album was pretty much in the bag. But when I heard the songs when I joined the band I thought that this shit is a killer, really really good stuff! Writing for Deaf Forever and other magazines, I get to hear a lot of music every month and this one really stood out to me. I expected that people would like it but not that this thing really blew the lid off. I for my part am pretty overwhelmed.
L: Yes, same here. We all thought that it was good and in a very egotistical way it was good enough for ourselves but it's good to hear that other people are enjoying it as well, even though it's very extreme and pretty heavy, gnarly music. It is music which isn't meant for everybody, maybe even not for people who liked Dew-Scented but the reaction was very positive and that is pretty motivating. I know that especially Arne and Phillip were the songwriters and Marc arranged the stuff then, they put a lot of time into this. We used pretty much the whole pandemic to find the songs, write the split and the full-length album – they were both done at the same time and we recorded it pretty much together. It's very gratifying to get that positive feedback. The album has been done for a year and it's great getting nice feedback.
Ulf, you replaced the old bass player Bass-T some time ago. You are also writing for German metalzine Deaf Forever – how do you make sure that there isn't any conflict of interest between the magazine and the band regarding reviews for example?
U: It's kind of tricky but I stay on the safe side because I obviously don't review my own band. I don't even vote for them in the soundchecks for the magazines I'm writing for. That's a policy in the Deaf Forever that a musician who is involved in a band doesn't write about it. It's the same with Slaughterday – I'm only a live member but don't write about them.
The musical style is very broad on "Fallout" – what were the biggest influences on the songwriting process?
L: It's tough to say because you're talking to the two guys who didn't write any of the music. But we were and still are all thrash guys, so thrash metal was definitely our starting point and we're huge fans of the genre even though it's not that we are conservatively trying to play. But you never can take the thrash out of it so some certain riffs will always have a foundation in early Bay Area bands. I guess the brutality comes from the fact that everybody likes death metal as well. We always have this intention to make it as heavy and brutal as possible with every riff and every arrangement. What we're trying to do is generally less traditional metal. I think bands like Disfear, Wolfbrigade, Tragedy – those are all bands that we like and agree on and so they have a certain influence when it comes to the melodies, vibe and the pace. It's possibly a mixture of all stuff we like and listen to. It can be Misery Index and Napalm Death that we are into – we're not gonna try to write a song that sounds like them but maybe there is a certain influence you can't deny over the time.
U: I think what people like about the music is that there is so much happening in those songs which you don't actually realize at the first listening. I just thought about this today, when you have to learn all the songs. There's not a part that gets repeated in the same way even if the song is only about 1 1/2 minutes. So I think the arrangements are something that lets this band standout.
L: I didn't know that. I'm just a singer! (laughs)
U: The songs are so catchy and the instrumental parts are never the same really. Of course there are songs and parts that repeat but never the same way.
L: The one thing that I definitely can say is that we were trying to make the album come across as diverse as possible. Of course there is a formula for how to write songs, but we have two different songwriters. That already itself makes the songs different to each other and then we try to make sure that we had a pool of 15 or 16 songs we were looking at and we made sure that the album has a full type of character, took some songs out like the cover song of Kreator we did to keep it for a mini album to separate them. I think this helps to keep the album fresh because it's not too long and like Ulf says I think there is a lot happening but I am not sure, I am just a musician and cannot explain it or break it down but to me it's fun and I hope it can be fun for somebody else as well.
You have a lot of social criticism in your lyrics. A few days ago I saw an old interview with Rob Halford from 1990 where he says that they care for society and what happens on the planet. Would you agree with that agenda?
L: Well, I care and I think everybody should care. Being in a band doesn't give you a louder voice but it gives you a bigger reach with your messages sometimes. The time where a metal band or artist would stand up and say something like "we are not political, we don't care about society and don't have any messages" was always a pretty lame excuse. Every human being should have an opinion and should have an attitude and should be able to express it. I think it's important to care about society and we have a lot of socially minded lyrics which are pretty negative. I'm not sure if they really offer a lot of solutions to problems but they point out problems that affect us enough to write about them.
U: I think when you're playing in a band or being a writer or whatever you go into public in a way. That makes you a political person not because of what you are but because you are public. Thrash metal and crust obviously has always been social minded and dystopian. I think it would be pretty lame to live in this world and look at reality and don't speak out your thoughts.
Yes, you're right but I know a lot of bands and musicians who say that they don't want to talk about politics.
L: I don't get that, especially when you see so many things going wrong right now. A lot of non-political people - as they would probably claim they are - are talking really weird politics right now. Even though they say that they are non-political they say that they have this or that to say and to me that's a lot of political crap being voiced at the moment. In a situation of struggle that we have right now in society, not having an opinion is a very bad opinion. But at the end of the day it's a personal choice. I don't even think of it basically. It's not part of an agenda for the band, it just reflects the way we feel as individuals and thankfully in the band we agree on the main things and therefore it comes across in a certain socially minded or political way even though it's not meant to provoke a discussion about it. We're just voicing opinions. But the lyrics also differ from lyric to lyric because we have different songwriters. Arne writes lyrics for some of his songs, Phillip writes a couple for his and I write a couple of lyrics for songs from both if they don't have the lyrics. So they are different and that makes it interesting to read them and even to perform them by myself. So I don't know I am the right person to explain the lyrics of others.
U: The lyrics are similar to the music. As I said before there is so much happening under the surface of the music and the same goes for the lyrics. Especially when Arne writes lyrics, they are pretty open – you can interpret them. And some of them are personal and you just don't know the story behind them. I like to give people something so they can make something on their own out of this.
With "Fallout" you picked up a topic which was very popular in the 80s, thinking about the Cold War, Chernobyl and all the atomic threads that were always in the news. Did you choose the title because now, with Putin, Medwedew and co speaking out their ruthless threats about the use of nuclear weapons as a consequence of the Ukrainian War and the support of the Western World, this topic has become very current again or just because it is a cool word?
L: First of all it is a very strong term that hasn't been overused. It's just a punch in the face when it comes to content. I don't think it's necessarily something that is related to the current war scenario that we have right now or at least I didn't choose the title because of that. I think it carries over the vibe from a lot of the music and the bands that we like to listen to since the 80s when we started listening to music. Some of that dystopian stuff hasn't disappeared nor changed. It gets worse over time or it changes and morphs into a different structure or feeling but the stuff that we are again afraid of and that we see going wrong has been the same all over the whole time. It was definitely not chosen to give the album a concept or a theme. It was a very strong picture we can work with and the artwork comes hand in hand with the title. We wanted something pretty epic, iconic and simple like this force from above that scans over the Earth and brings perdition. So obviously the title fits very well for that. We wanted something extraterrestrial, I don't think it's a god or goddess on the cover, it is just supposed to be a symbol. It's linked to the title and to some lyrics we have. A lot of people believe in religion, I don't. But there is a little bit of a religious vibe to the cover as well which I totally love - that broken down angel and everything burns, haha.
U: I think it all comes down to Voivod. I had to laugh because the other day we did an interview and we were asked about them because of the cover of our first EP. I mean we don't sound like Voivod at all. Of course they are an inspiration but you don't hear them in our stuff. But I think it's in the spirit. Voivod is a band we all can bond over, there is not a single rehearsal or we get together where at least one of us is wearing their shirt. Especially for me it was always early Voivod, the first two albums "War And Pain" and "Rrröööaaarrr". What were those about? Radiated wastelands and dystopia. These topics never get old because it sadly never disappears from the real world.
With Supreme Chaos Records you have chosen a very small label (with a lot of good bands in their roster though) to distribute the album which is only out as 500 pieces. Why did you decide not to go a step further?
L: To be honest I didn't even know if we would go with a label anyhow. We did the first release by ourselves and the vinyl version was released by a friend of us, the 7" had been on different labels and basically Supreme Chaos came in the picture the same way. Robby is a very nice guy that we've known for a long time and he was personally interested in the band. We took the split-album "Banner Of Hatred" as a way to find out how it works to have a corporation with him and we also decided to give him the album for the same reason. He takes good care of vinyl and CDs. It's a brand new band to most of the people and it's very much underground and I think that we fit to a home like this because it is a German label and this is where we come from and where we play the most. For the rest, it's just step by step. We will see what happens if the vinyl and the CD that he is releasing sells out. I'm sure that he will do some more and we're not against it but we can also keep it realistic.
Apart from Dortmund Deathfest, what are the upcoming plans for you guys?
L: We just want to launch the record as good as possible, this has been the case for the last couple of weeks. Today is the launch for the next video "Spiritual Arsonists", which is one of my favorites from the album. It's a very straight forward video, just some dudes having fun in the rehearsal room. I think it's the best possible story of the world and I'm very excited about this because it will launch in 30 minutes. So when you read this it's been out there for a long time, haha. And we're trying to play as many shows as possible and we have a handful of gigs and festivals that we are working on right now. And we have the idea that we keep on writing new songs because the album has been done for a year so we are trying to finalize some next songs. We started working on them when Ulf was fresh in the band. We had some rehearsal sessions when we would do new material and the next session we worked on the older and album material. I'm very excited to continue writing because that's what the band is all about. Phillip and Arne each have three songs already thrown into the mix that we're working on but we're not in a hurry.
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