The Mike Patton Corner: FANTôMAS’s The Director’s Cut
“There is something more important than logic: imagination.” — Alfred Hitchcock
Mike Patton has worn many hats during his long career, you could practically fill a walk-in closet with them. In addition to his contributions to a vast and ever-expanding list of musical projects, he is also both a screen and voice actor, and has composed the scores for a number of feature films. Patton’s love of cinema is well documented, and has become one of the defining characteristics of his identity as an artist. The name FANTôMAS is itself a reference to a supervillain from a series of 1960’s French films, and while many of Patton’s songs contain references and allusions to and/or samples of several different movies, there is perhaps no bigger love letter to film in his studio discography than FANTôMAS’s groundbreaking 2001 sophomore album, The Director’s Cut. Where their first album was a series of brief but nonetheless extremely wild avant-garde metal songs composed entirely by Mike Patton, the band takes more of an interpretive role this time around, adding a creative twist to a number of famous themes from crime and horror films, sometimes to the point of being largely unrecognizable.
The four FANTôMAS albums are some of the most extreme showcases you’re apt to find for the outer spectrum of Patton’s astonishing vocal abilities, but nowhere are his performances more dynamic than on The Director’s Cut. In fact, core members Buzz Osborne, Trevor Dunn, and Dave Lombardo all demonstrate impressive range and nuance throughout this record, skillfully filtering these legendary themes through their unique sound. Patton, of course, already had experience covering music from films on Midnight Cowboy, the final track of Faith No More’s Angel Dust, but that was a rather faithful interpretation compared to the music on this record, which incorporates elements of jazz, grunge, electronica, thrash metal, and trip-hop to turn these classic compositions into mind-expanding experimental masterpieces. Exciting and frantic as other FANTôMAS projects may be, The Director’s Cut is easily their most focused, conceptual, and rewarding album, and it’s no wonder that they’ve reunited multiple times to perform it in its entirety.
Much like Midnight Cowboy, the album opens with the unaccompanied sound of Mike Patton’s melodica, this time playing out Nino Rota’s famous melody from one of the most beloved films in American cinema, The Godfather. After that brief intro, the band brings the hammer down hard and lets the first chord ring before exploding into thrash metal, over which Patton delivers the kind of insane, scream-scatted vocals that populated their debut. In one of the album’s many inspired moments, Patton’s whooping and hollering is hard-panned and trades off in the left and right channels, an effect he achieved during live performances by singing into two different microphones. Dunn and Osborne take the iconic melody and convert it into blindingly intense riffage, and the production on this album (provided by Patton himself) is so crisp and clear that the incredible bass tone cuts through the madness to provide each track with a wholly satisfying low end. The band transition into a calmer section that more resembles the original track, with Patton singing the melody alongside synthesized mandolin before a pick scrape introduces another brief but epic metal section that features theatrical and operatic vocals. One of Patton’s strengths as an artist is his ability to convey his trademark sense of humor through performance and composition choices alone, and the spirit of his dark goofiness pervades this entire album much like it did Disco Volante. The calmer tone returns and brings the track to its conclusion, making it yet another bizarrely structured and incredibly creative track in Patton’s catalog.
On the next track, Der Golem, the band take the unorthodox rhythm of Karl Ernst Sasse’s booming horn line and turn it into an ear-grabbing doom metal riff, with Patton delivering original lyrics in his deepest, bassiest register:
The hour has come/
Breathe life into clay/
We will be saved”
After the verse, the band busts back into the riff with a crash, and a more driving drumbeat emphasizes the heaviness as Patton screams “THE CREATURE WAAAAAAALKS!” There’s a post chorus that utilizes the same 1–1–2–2–1–2–5 rhythm as the verse, and in one of the final sections the band builds tension as Patton screams about the golem with increasing vigor. The song ends after a short and unexpected thrash metal outro, with Dave Lombardo pummeling the double kick like he’s back in his Slayer days. Even though the songs on this album tend to be longer than other FANTôMAS albums (save for Delírivm Córdia, which is just one 75-minute track), they’re still pretty brief considering how many different sections and incredible moments the band manages to pack into them.
If you’ve ever listened to Slayer and thought, “I’d love to hear this drummer play some jazz,” you’ll be thrilled by the third track, Experiment In Terror. My guess is that Patton found this movie through David Lynch, who is a noted (or at least suspected) fan of the film, which you can kind of tell from watching it. Not only does the protagonist live in a neighborhood called Twin Peaks, but the killer is actually named Garland Lynch, and the film’s controversial use of violence likely had a lasting impact on Lynch’s writing. The sly, finger-snappin’ beat and plunky guitar riff provide a fantastically groovy backdrop to Patton’s devilish crooning, which he switches up in the second verse for a sneering falsetto. The original track maintains the same tone throughout, but FANTôMAS take the dramatic string section of the bridge and turn it into musical theater-metal, Patton playing to the back of the room with a powerful belt. The song dramatically concludes after one more verse, and though it’s not one of the more adventurous interpretations, it takes everything great about Henry Mancini’s original track and amplifies it into a stunning and timeless jazz tune.
One of the strengths of Harry Lubin’s original theme for One Step Beyond was that it took one outstanding and eerie melody and repeated it multiple times while adding and changing elements to give it a consistent but transformative quality. FANTôMAS take those elements and turn them up to 11, opening with the spare, synthesized lead, making the next repetition slightly more filled-out, and then going as extreme as possible with raging guitars, impossibly high opera vocals, and a black metal blast beat. Lombardo’s crash cymbals are astonishingly on-point as he accentuates every note, and when the melody repeats again, the key shifts downward and the vocals turn from a clean to a screamed falsetto. The track ends with some off-kilter riffs complete with squelching, boinging sound effects, capped with a brief, ascending barrage before halting abruptly. This track is a masterclass in balancing controlled aggression with relentless fury, and remains faithful to the source material while adding the band’s chaotic madness.
We get a brief one next, the eerie lullaby of Night Of The Hunter (Remix), where Osborne’s dreamy chords and tense pick scrapes mingle with quirky sound effects and Patton’s haunting falsetto. “Dream, little one, dream,” he sings with heavy reverb as the band crafts Walter Schumann’s orchestra/choir combo into an unnerving soundscape. Though just one minute in length, this track serves as both a cooldown point and a great interlude.
Much like one of the best Simpsons episodes, the next track is based on Cape Fear, as the band once again turns a bellowing horn line into an unstoppable metal riff. While Bernard Herrmann’s epic theme is truncated to under two minutes, the band’s interpretation is a gargantuan, stomping beast, with such a huge impact it may as well be making enormous footsteps, leaving smoking rubble in its wake. Patton’s wailing, wordless falsetto sings along with the guitar and bass as the dramatic keyboards give this tune new depth, and he switches back to a softer tone for a few bars during the calmer middle section as crunchy lo-fi noise threatens to smother the instrumentation. The song concludes dramatically with Patton’s screaming synchronized with the rest of the band, snuffing out the song’s monstrous momentum like a bleeding novelty candle.
The next track is possibly my favorite FANTôMAS song of all time, the hair-raising, bone-chilling masterpiece that is Rosemary’s Baby. Originally composed by Krzysztof Komeda, this is one of the most famous, iconic themes of any movie in history, horror or otherwise, and the band twist it into an anguished, haunting explosion of chamber metal. Patton’s singing in the intro is enough to give you goosebumps, and as the moody guitar riff comes in he changes from his breathy falsetto to a husky baritone. Towards the end of the phrase, the heavy metal kicks in, and the song crashes to life, the guitars alternating between single-note plucking and metal chugging. Every moment of this track is so exquisitely crafted, with the blastbeat momentarily returning as Patton’s vocals turn loud and violent, all melting into a slower, quieter section that’s punctuated with crying baby sound effects. The song then ramps up to its thrilling conclusion, building tension with a chugged, 6/4 riff that includes rhythmic pick scrapes as Patton repeats the most famous quote from the film’s shocking climax:
Have they done…/
Patton says this twice with growing anxiousness until suddenly, the band turns the loudness all the way up, and Patton screams the line with such intensity that his voice actually starts cracking. To me, this is one of the most emotionally affecting moments in Patton’s catalog, and I can’t help but get chills every single time I hear it. The band could not have crafted a more perfect centerpiece for this album, it’s a stunning triumph.
A second interlude comes next, The Devil Rides Out (Remix), yet another example of the band taking an already ominous and imposing theme and cranking up the drama with huge synth strings and metal guitars. Originally by James Bernard, who scored a number of classic horror films, FANTôMAS add drums and electronic noise to take a pretty standard (though excellently composed) theme and turn it into an incredible and short burst of experimental metal.
With the next track, FANTôMAS come through with their very own Monster Mash on the trip-hop inspired Spider Baby. Bolstered by synth horns and driven by a knockin’ drumbeat and a simple guitar/piano riff, the metal musicians deliver an impressive level of funk as Patton recites Ronald Stein’s campy lyrics about ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and a host of other ghouls, like he’s introducing some kind of late night movie marathon. Between the verses we get more creepy falsettos, and every other chorus has a ridiculously catchy, outer-space synth riff sounding off in one channel. Patton’s charisma really sells this track, which is easily one of the funnest FANTôMAS songs ever, and any Halloween party worth going to should have this on its playlist.
The thrash metal comes roaring back on The Omen (Ave Satani), which opens with Patton singing the famous Latin lyrics over a sustained synth keyboard note. As pipe organ comes into the fold, we suddenly get layers upon layers of overdubbed harmonies as Patton fashions a genuine Gregorian choir from his own voice. It’s one of the coolest moments on the album, and abruptly gives way to a breakneck guitar riff played through a filter that sounds like an old radio. The same filter is applied to the drums and vocals until a vicious drum fill transitions the song into pristine, pummeling metal. When the band played this song live, Patton would scream his head off, but the studio version sees a much more controlled performance, at least until the bridge, where his vocals become more urgent and powerful. The chorus of Pattons on the bridge give the song grandiosity as the lead vocal wails dramatically over top, and the explosive climax melts into even more monk-like harmonies. Though one of the shorter tracks, it’s a super creative and exciting interpretation, and the combination of genres is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
The next track, based on Robert McNaughton’s theme from the gritty and disturbing Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, opens with a couple drum hits that ring out into unsettling ambience. This theme is perfect for a FANTôMAS cover, it has a dramatic and catchy melody, and plenty of room to be expanded upon. The lyrics paraphrase a famous quote from the film, and Patton sings them with the fiendish rage if the titular murderer:
“It’s either you or them/
Them or you”
The song chugs along with a subtle but eternally headbangable energy, but its momentum is snuffed out after an almost disappointingly short two minutes. With fantastic guitar tones and raging drum fills, this is definitely one of the more aggressive of the album’s slower tracks.
Next is the only track whose basis was music from a television show rather than a movie, and that’s John Barry’s theme for the 60’s spy series Vendetta. While the original is creeping and mysterious, FANTôMAS add quite a bit of funk with their wah-wah guitars and clavichords, and Patton sings the main melody with distortion and tremolo effects on his voice. Compared to the spare original, there’s so much more going on in this song, and Patton even substitutes some of the horns with tight, controlled shrieks. With extra instruments and fuller production, this is one of the best interpretations on the album, not just living up to the original, but arguably surpassing it.
Much like the last FANTôMAS album, track 13 is about four seconds long and is untitled, consisting only of the sound of the last track’s final note ringing out.
We then get Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion, which begins with some ghastly throat squeaks from Patton before the tip-toeing melody creeps in. More wah guitar accentuates the twinkling melody of Ennio Morricone’s original before starting into a heavier, marching section, with Patton emphasizing every third beat of the bar with a cry of “BYAAAA” until a riffy metal section with some superbly mixed bass cuts through. Traveling between the channels, the lyrics sound like a murderer talking to his victim (which, in the context of the film, was a police officer and his mistress respectively):
“Every comb of hair/
The times you see red/
Every hair on your head/
Every thread on your back/
Every piece of skin/
Every mouth you’ve fed/
Every word that you said/
Every drop you bled/
You hear the whisper calling”
The original is eerie, with a touch of zany, which makes it prime fodder for this project, and the last 30 seconds is taken up by a surprise thrash metal section, with Patton belting out his now-signature cries of “YAYAYAYAYOYOYOYOYAYAYAYAYOYOYOYO” as the song comes to its explosive ending.
If you thought Mike Patton would make an album like this without giving a nod to his boy David Lynch, you’re dead wrong, because the penultimate track is a cover of the master Angelo Badalamenti’s serene and spooky theme for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Beginning with some deep, slow doom metal riffs and melting into serene jazz, Patton’s vocals mimic the iconic saxophone line, and have completely replaced the sound of the original in my head. A rush of dramatic metal accompanies the end of the phrase, and after one more repetition, the song bursts to life with some unexpected and incredibly heavy trip-hop drums. These drums were one of the first things about this album I ever fell in love with when I discovered this song at the age of 17 and I was first getting into Twin Peaks; they are fucking trunk knockers of the highest caliber. These drums are accompanied by a futuristic electronic soundscape before ice-cold synths introduce heavy guitars and dastardly lyrics, which sound like they’re written from the perspective of Killer BOB, the Twin Peaks universe’s scariest and most ruthless antagonist:
You’re gone, but I’m there/
I’m gone, but you’re there”
Like many on this album, this track is great because it takes the source material in an unexpected and sonically incredible direction, and though Badalamenti is and always will be the king, this is an incredibly worthy tribute to his genius.
Mike Patton must be extremely fond of Henry Mancini, because the final track is a cover of his theme from the Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn classic Charade, a film the Rotten Tomatoes consensus describes as “perfectly orchestrated mayhem,” which could not be a better description of this song and the rest of the album. Like all great album closers, this track combines just about everything that makes this album incredible, seamlessly blending the sly jazz of the original with experimental chamber metal in the most unholy matrimony as Patton sings appropriately self-congratulatory lyrics:
“Oh what a hit we’ve made/
We came on next to closing/
Best on the bill/
Love left the masquerade”
This is one of Lombardo’s best performances, nailing the jazziness and then bursting into the album’s most technical blastbeat in the bridge, which is immediately followed by the sound of an adoring crowd cheering for more. Patton comes in and gently croons the final verse, and the album comes to a quietly dramatic conclusion. Except, it doesn’t, because the album’s final punchline is about 5 seconds of thrash metal, Patton’s scatted screams drilling into our brains one final time.
The history of popular music is overflowing with tedious and unnecessary covers albums, to the point where the very idea of one was a joke of sorts decades before this album came along and turned it on its head. Each and every one FANTôMAS’s interpretations is, somewhat ironically, a breathtakingly original spin on an old classic. Their first album established them as a band with a sound like no other, and in filtering these timeless tunes through their style, bolstered by sublime production, they made what has to be one of the most creative, thrilling, and groundbreaking metal albums ever made, let alone covers albums. What FANTôMAS do on this record is not just impressive, it’s downright magical, and completely redefined not just what the band could accomplish, but what heavy metal and covers albums could be.
I give FANTôMAS’s The Director’s Cut four stars, two thumbs up, and a 10/10
Best Songs: The Godfather, Experiment In Terror, Rosemary’s Baby, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Charade