The Phantom Tollbooth
Artist: Brandtson
Label: Deep Elm Records
Time: 11 tracks/54:22

Dark and beautiful.  Heavy and deep.  These are just some of the words that come to mind when describing Brandtson.  Hailing from Cleveland, Brandtson includes of ex-Six Feet Deep member, Myk Porter, and Steadfast Records hardcore label founder, Matt Traxler.  But Brandtson is not a hardcore band.  Their sound is a mix of highly emotional vocals and harmonies, driving guitars, and deeply personal lyrics.  A near carbon copy of this sound can be found on SFD's last album, with the song "Broken Tree," and it's very easy to see how  Brandtson evolved from that. Some may remember Letterbox being released on Traxler's Steadfast label last year, but this is a completely overhauled re-release by their new indie label, Deep Elm. And it's a night and day difference, with new artwork, a different song order, and best of all, a crisp and crunchy production this time around.

The vocals on the album are shared by Porter and Jared Jolley, the drummer. Both vocalists sound nearly identical, making for a neat effect when a song calls for them to trade off.  Some of the guitar parts remind me of Stavesacre, only with a little bit more power and crunch.  This album has some thick guitar work, and it sounds good.  Deep Elm must have sunk some money into production for this one, because the sharp, explosive guitar tones on this flat-out destroy the muddy tones of the original release. Those who already own the first version should pick this up almost as a sophomore album.

The lyrics are what really make this band stand out.  Very personal, very intimate, and very engrossing.  Just read the lyrics for "Days End," a song about a fellow believer losing his faith:

This is an incredible CD, combining many different elements to come up with something new, yet familiar.  Brandtson is the best new Christian band I've heard this year...maybe even the best I've heard yet.

By Joe Rockstroh (8/15/98)