Fantomas – Delirium Cordia (2004): On Second Thought

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Dark, scary, beautiful, and intriguing. Comprised of one long song (74 minutes and no track breaks!), Delirium Cordia really required the listener to take it all in at once.

Like the difference between seeing a film in a theater and on TV, the effect just isn’t quite the same if you break it up. I know: Reading that it’s one long track for well over an hour doesn’t seem appealing, and before I listened to it, I even considered burning a copy with track breaks just so I could jump around, but once you give it a spin you’ll understand.

The film analogy above is fitting. After all, the only comparison that makes sense with regard to Delirium Cordia — released on January 27, 2004 — is a film. And really, it’s more fitting that it’s compared to the score of a film. Delirium Cordia wasn’t so much “music” as it is a collection of sounds: You won’t find any significantly hummable tunes anywhere within that 74-minute time span. What you will find is a harrowing journey representative of … something having to do with surgery. Or maybe death. Or maybe life after death.

I’m not sure — and Fantomas gave you very few clues to go on. What you will experience are Fantomas staples: speed riffing; ominous plodding basslines; Mike Patton’s trademark vocal pyrotechnics — and a host of disturbing sounds inspired by (and possibly sourced from) the operating room environment.

Keep that word “disturbing” in mind, because that’s exactly what this album is. This is seriously creepy stuff. Between blasts of frantic energy from Fantomas — an avant-garde metal supergroup featuring Patton (Faith No More), guitarist Buzz Osborne (the Melvins), bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle) and drummer Dave Lombardo (Slayer) — there were doctors discussing procedures, medical equipment, and other unidentifiable noises, and periodically the band would break in with a shocking amount of noise.

Other times, Fantomas explored the ambiance, allowing the listener to settle in. But knowing Fantomas, you won’t trust them because you know that peak of energy is coming. And it did — over and over, and you never expected it, no matter how prepared you try to make yourself.

To top it all off, the album came packaged in a glossy black slipcase. Slide that off and you saw the front of the liner notes bearing the slightly bloodied hands of a surgeon crossed over his chest. Inside of a classy, unusual dark-tinted jewelcase was a gorgeously printed booklet … but inside were images you couldn’t escape as you listened to the album. A face is distorted and warped by a series of clamps pulling back the lips of a patient (why, we don’t know); a stream of bloody water flows from an enormous wound; a patient’s chest is cracked open to reveal a massive tumor; and best of all is an eye being lifted out of the eye socket of an organ donor. These were all real photos, the work of Max Aguilera as published in his book, The Sacred Heart.

Disturbing and disgusting as they were, they added a dimension to the music that made the proceedings that much more real and important. This wasn’t just a gross-out session by the band. What their point is wasn’t entirely clear, but it wasn’t a joke. Maybe they were just saying, “Hey, take care of yourself. This is what happens when you die.”

The most I can make is that what we hear is supposed to be the last hour of someone’s life. That’s all the meaning I can take from this. Like the best films and the best books, it doesn’t tell you everything. In fact, it hardly tells anything at all: The mystery is bigger than the music itself. But that keeps me coming back.

I can say, however, that when you make it through those 74 minutes, the end is absolutely not what you might expect. I won’t spoil it for you. You need to experience it for yourself. I won’t even tell you my reaction, because I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I will say this: There’s nearly 15 minutes of what sounds like a breathing pump and possibly the sound of blood flowing through veins.

And then … you figure it out. I can guarantee you it’s not what you’re thinking it is.

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at
Tom Johnson
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