Every now and then, a band strikes on an ambitious concept that is simply stunning in execution.
Black Sabbath famously opened Black Sabbath with rain, thunder, and bells.
Tool’s Lateralus incorporated the Fibonacci sequence within the title track to amazing effect.
Pink Floyd released The Wall as a remarkable Rock opera detailing the demise of a Rock star constructing a figurative and literal wall between himself and society.
Philiac may not have the accolades of these aforementioned bands, but their 2019 album, Oil Wars, is a stunning concept album that is simultaneously horrifying and captivating.
Written as a terrifying lucid dream, Oil Wars frequently drifts between intoxicating Space Rock, massive Fuzz Rock, and Stoner Rock with a Psychedelic edge.
It’s a dangerous experiment with an atypical construction and quick transitions, but it’s an idea that largely works.
And when the concept is working, Oil Wars is unforgettable.
Philiac is a collective that formed in 2007 in Ibiza, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea that’s famous for its nightlife and electronic dance music. With members of the Desert Rock and Electronica scenes, members of Philiac often refer to their fusion as peyote rock.
I reached out to Can Abyss Records, the label behind Philiac, to figure out who the individual members are. The response:
“Regarding the musicians, it is the position of those responsible that knowing and considering individual personalities behind the scenes might be a distraction from a work of art. A creation can maybe stand more solidly as itself without any focus on the personalities responsible for the ingredients.”
OK. Color me intrigued.
The representative did, however, mention that there is an audio clip of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who was also a father of the atomic bomb.
Even more interesting.
Most of the recording for Oil Wars was completed at the famous Rancho De La Luna Studio in Joshua Tree, with some tracks recorded in Nagasaki, Japan, and Ibiza, Spain.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the review.
Oil Wars Review
YouTube Length: 39:55
Our review for Oil Wars will be a bit like our review of “Twenty-Twenty” by IKITAN. Since we don’t have individual tracks to examine, we’ll look at sections demarcated by the YouTube timestamps (for reference, the YouTube video we’ve included above is one of the few places Oil Wars exists).
Here’s our play-by-play:
Part 1: 00:00-01:38 (Fill)
For the first few seconds of the video, all we see are a few intro slides: the name of the band, the name of the album, then a picture of the physical product.
Eventually, though, we see someone insert the Oil Wars tape into the tape deck, an action that’s followed by the cool, retro hiss of a cassette tape.
Soon we hear a mix of typical Space Rock noises. Lasers. Tractor beams. The deep industrial hum of machinery.
We don’t get music in this first part of Oil Wars—only a few themes of what’s to come.
Part 2: 1:39-2:22 (Song)
Around 1:39, the music kicks in, offering a dreamy, driving Space Rock.
With a steady, pulsing riff and heavy undertones, I’m reminded of “Blackout” by Nova Driver. This is a section that feels like it’ll carry you well beyond the Milky Way Galaxy—if only it didn’t conclude in less than 50 seconds.
Part 3: 2:23-3:24 (Fill)
As quickly as it started, Oil Wars is interrupted by a beeping alarm clock.
From there, we hear the breathing of someone stirring and hitting the alarm.
As the breath calms, chirping birds settle into the background.
Eventually, the pulse from the intro returns, giving a few hints of Pink Floyd and The Wall.
Part 4: 3:25-5:27 (Song)
The drums come in quietly at first, rooting the song within the cosmic swirl of Part 3. This is a dreamy mix with plenty of competing noises tearing through the left and right speakers.
Eventually, the chaos dies out into a long, sustained drone that slowly—slowly—dies out, as if it is going to stretch into infinity.
Part 5: 5:28-6:28 (Fill)
After a sudden, harsh hiss, we hear a soundbite from Oppenheimer—his famous quote after seeing the first nuclear detonation:
“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that one way or another.”
Part 6: 6:29-11:39 (Song)
As soon as Oppenheimer concludes talking, we hear a guitar chord. It’s light and slightly fuzzed, a welcome reprieve from the tension created by the discussion of nuclear detonations.
This is, perhaps, our first full song in Oil Wars.
It’s slow and dramatic, but not overwhelming. Instead, the guitars occasionally erupt to punctuate the vocalist’s message. Unfortunately, that message is hard to understand. The vocals are often barely intelligible, and we didn’t even think it was English on the first listen (Spoiler: It is).
At 9:40, the drums kick in with power, accenting the guitar and raising the song to a new dramatic high and shifting into a sad form of Psychedelic Rock.
Around 11:05, an angelic female vocalist cuts through the fray. It’s a stunning moment, but it’s quickly concluded.
Part 7: 11:40-12:34 (Fill)
For nearly the next minute, Oil Wars is a wash of synth, Space Rock fill, and tension.
Part 8: 12:35-16:33 (Song)
The transition from Part 7 to Part 8 is muddy, but 12:35 marks the first clear note of a guitar, which we’ll count as the beginning of another song.
Part 8 is a wash of hi-hats and meandering guitars—all of it backed by phasers and a wall of bass.
Then comes the most dramatic section of Oil Wars: Just as you think Part 8 is fading out of existence, it roars to life with dramatic drums that breathe new cosmic energy into the entire performance. Eventually, close listeners might pick up hints of King Buffalo.
Finally, Part 8 erupts with a sudden scream, then quickly fades out, as if death itself pulled Oil Wars deep into the ether.
Part 9: 16:34-19:19 (Song)
Here, we witness the most abrupt transition within Oil Wars so far, one that makes Oil Wars feel more like an album than the experience it’s been so far.
Still, Philiac cloaks the transition well: for barely a second, Part 8 plays underneath Part 9, before succumbing to its replacement.
Part 9 begins as a soft, quiet song with a soothing, repetitive bass line. After introducing the guitars, the vocals enter the fray upon a roll of thunder.
Soon, though, Oil Wars once again fades to silence.
Part 10: 19:20-22:57 (Fill)
Part 10 opens dramatically—a slow, Drone Metal merry-go-round of synth and bass with ringing guitars and massive chords.
If this is still a dream world, we’ve entered a nightmare.
And then, it settles: Although the drums rip through the speakers, the bass offers a quiet presence.
Part 10: 22:58-28:42 (Fill)
After nearly a minute and a half of droning, a voice enters the fray. This time, the delivery is more rhythmic, almost chanted.
As the voice rips back and forth, we waiver in another nightmare.
But, like many sections of Oil Wars, the voice is often gone as quickly as it appeared.
With a ash of random noise and phasers, part 10 is truly haunting and terrifying—as if aliens were descending.
Part 11: 28:43-33:36 (Song)
The drums enter the chaos at 28:43, offering something to ground the entire experience. Soon, the band returns in full force, offering another Psychedelic Space Rock track.
If this is a song, Part 11 is depressing, and, for a moment, feels a tiny bit like a fuzzier version of Stoned Jesus’ “I’m the Mountain.”
Part 12: 33:37 – 37:18 (Song)
For our final song on Oil Wars, Philiac plays another heavy round of Psychedelic Space Rock.
“I’m never going to see you again,” the vocalist cries in heartbreaking fashion.
It’s a depressing conclusion to a (oftentimes) depressing album.
Part 13: 37:19-End (Fill)
Part starts by falling into silence.
Eventually, a new voice emerges: “Can you hear me?” It’s easy to miss, especially since it only appearances once as the alarm returns.
Much like the album started, Oil Wars concludes with the alarm clock.
But this time there’s one big difference: No one stirs to turn it off.
Standout Sections: Part 6, Part 9
Pros: It’s not often we see something so ambitious come through Monster Riff. Philiac’s Oil Wars is entirely unique, intriguing, and (for the most part) captivating.
Can Abyss Records has smartly withheld just enough details to keep story behind Oil Wars hidden, allowing the listener to dive in and develop their own interpretation.
Cons: In a great concept album, the concept complements the songwriting, and the songwriting complements the concept.
That’s not always the case in Oil Wars.
While Oil Wars is an intriguing experience from start to finish, the band often seems in a hurry from one section to another, even cutting off “songs” just as they really start to become immersive.
If that’s part of the artist’s intention, fine—but it still interrupts some of the album’s best parts.
Oil Wars, then, is a concept album that attempts to achieve true art status, meant to be listened to as an entire piece instead of standalone tracks.
Like other concept pieces in this space (think Dopesmoker), Oil Wars will have its share of detractors, but it will also accumulate its own special cult following of diehard fans.