Far from being a typical three-piece anchored by a famous drummer, PHILM–the power trio forged by Dave Lombardo–is creatively audacious in its own right. The Los Angeles-based band is rounded out by vocalist/guitarist Gerry Nestler and Pancho Tomaselli on bass.
Together, like eccentric laboratory scientists tweaking new concoctions, they explore new realms rooted in heavy, pulsating rock but daring enough to dabble in thrash and jazz.
"It's definitely not a side project, it's a band," Lombardo tells the Weekly. "We all have the same goal and are working hard in continuing the creative process." The musicians are all-in on PHILM, with Lombardo departing from Slayer in 2013 and Tomaselli leaving as bassist for funk band WAR earlier this year. Hectic tour schedules no longer get in the way of their goals. "We made the decision to be able to focus 100 percent on our band once and for all," Tomaselli says.
PHILM is riding that dedicated momentum with the release of Fire From the Evening Sun last September. It's a follow up to Harmonic, the band's 2012 debut. This time around, the sound is less ethereal and acid-laden in favor of tighter audio bombardments.
"We actually didn't have any improvisation pieces on the record," Lombardo says. "After Harmonic, I felt we needed to release an album that catered to fans that are into heavy music." His drumming manifests that with rhythmic craftiness displayed throughout. Lombardo laid down all his tracks for the album's 12 songs in one day, a feat that amazed Jackass cameraman Rick Kosick when filming PHILM in the studio.
But with Fire From the Evening Sun there's still plenty of room for experimentation, including when "Corner Girl" morphs into trumpet-laced salsa sounds more fit for swinging hips than moshing in the pit. "It's heavy, but very cinematic," Lombardo adds, summing up the band. "It's like Cream on steroids," Tomaselli quips.
PHILM's spent the past half-year taking the new album on the road in an effort to expand the reach of their five-year-old outfit. "The band is growing quick!" the drummer reports. A recent, grind-it-out tour overseas solidified PHILM's chemistry even more. "We did 19 shows in 20 days in Europe through snow and rain, really going against the elements, but we prevailed!" he says. Band members fell sick, but all shows went on without cancellation, and the ladies mixed into the crowds, a sure sign in the heavy rock scene of being on the right creative path. "If it becomes a sausage festival you know you're not doing anything original," Tomaselli jokes.
Innovation is the foundation of PHILM. The ferocity of Lombardo's drumming on his scaled down four-piece kit is complemented by key elements. Nestler's style has a spoken word cadence on his verses before roaring in gut-wrenching screams come chorus time. "He's obviously the voice but also the imagery of the band," says Lombardo. "It's almost like someone's preaching to you from a tower." The guitarist embellishes his poetry with effects-laden melodies giving PHILM its unearthly touch.
And then there's some of the best bass playing in heavy rock since Tim Commerford's work with Rage Against the Machine. "It's not because I'm the bass player that I say this," Tomaselli qualifies, "but I think what gives it a lot of flavor is there are a lot of grooves and that's what makes it interesting, too."
Bound together by a common cause, Lombardo wants PHILM to be a power trio that rocks the masses away from the seduction of simple synthetic pop hypnosis. Their mission is also welcomed in an era of all-too-predictable rock clichés. "What people going to the show are going to get is a high energy that's a blend of rock, thrash and a little jazzy vibe, too," Lombardo says. "The art of rock & roll is not dead."
PHILM performs at the Gaslamp, 6251 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach. Sun., July 5, 6 p.m. $15. All Ages. For more info on PHILM, visit www.facebook.com/PHILMOfficial.