Review: The Appleyards – Phantasmagoria

As if tasked with writing the soundtracks for several horror films all at once, The Appleyards’ Phantasmagoria, their latest full-length release, is a study in punk, surf, and horror.

A Cambridge, MA. outfit with ties to Lowell, the Appleyards harnessed a dark, eerie, and nuanced sound for Phantasmagoria. Throughout, surf-style guitar work, fuzzy tones, and an oft-frenetic vocal delivery maintain both an ominous and at times comical aesthetic, regardless of the content.

“The Black Cat” and “The Black Cat Pt II” open and close the album respectively, and it’s these songs that set the stage for the cinematic quality for much of Phantasmagoria. I found myself visualizing a dark alley, a lonely passerby, and a stalking feline getting ready to strike. The choice of sandwiching the album with these two songs, linked with a common melodic theme, gives the album a surprising and understated depth.

Adam Brown steps into several different characters vocally throughout the album. On “Couch Surfer,” he is a hard-rocking road warrior, while on “Krull” he could have been a stand-in for John Lydon of The Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited fame.

Some songs are truly haunting, as is the case with “Blood Red Moon”. The chromatic guitar lead—awash in thick Sabbath-like fuzz—elicits a feeling of quickly-impending doom, while “Strange Alchemy” explores the same haunting theme in a slow and sludgy romp that morphs into a straight horror-punk thrashfest, and back again.

The two tonal characters of the album—heavy fuzz on one hand, and sparse, reverb-heavy surf punk on the other—are what makes the album novel throughout. The tones explored by Brown and lead guitarist Jordan Wolfcastle give Phantasmagoria most of its dark and eclectic quality. Coupled with effective and dynamic drumming, and a fitting bass delivery, the album grasps hold of something rare in the local music scene—a truly cinematic character.

Overall, Phantasmagoria is cohesive and driving, with enough turnarounds to make the album a worthy and engaging listen. The most interesting aspect of The Appleyards’ sound on this album is its distinctly visual character—each song, with or without lyrics, builds a scene the listener steps in and out of seamlessly, with a new screenplay for every tune. – Al Gentile

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