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It’s been a few years since I heard anything by this duo and one reason is that Haemoth & Co haven’t been very prolific: “Cypher” is their first release since “Mescalyne” in 2007. The major advance in Spektr’s music since then is the musicians’ incorporation of elements from several other music genres such as industrial, melodic post-metal, jazz and the usual musique concrete and spoken voice samples with the result that this album resembles a soundtrack to an otherwise silent horror sci-fi film. There is also much manipulation of atmosphere and emotion here.
What horrific futurist film might Spektr be offering on “Cypher”? It agrees more or less with previous work of theirs in which an intrepid adventurer, investigating the deepest recesses of the human mind, crosses into a realm beyond life where not even the dead normally go but some of heightened mental and emotional sensitivities, and some training in gnostic knowledge and ritual, might dare to enter. The volume of the music goes up and down as if the whole thing were animated by an inwardly-generated self-aware consciousness. The critical Rubicon appears to take place somewhere in track 3 (“The Singularity”).
Pivotal tracks are “Teratology”, “The Singularity”, “Antimatter”, the surprisingly blues-sounding (at least in its first few minutes) “Cypher” and “Le Vitriol du Philosophe”, this last being the most brutally industrial, ambient and futuristic, and the least black metal. Indeed, black metal figures much, much less than might be expected: the guitars are still sharp but have a more melodic bent. The long tracks rampage across the musical spectrum and dive into quite unexpected turns and twists; the short tracks are usually quiet ambient interludes between long tracks.
Only about 45 minutes, the album feels like a mammoth effort on the duo’s part to create a hellish odyssey into demonic kingdoms, out of which our explorer ends up crawling out of a wormhole into a future society run by self-aware machines powered by simulacra of human brains. There is not a flesh-n-blood critter in sight. One shudders to think that the one thing more terrifying than what Satan and his acolytes can magick up is the mind, individual and collective, that can imagine Satan and the demonic hierarchy in the first place. The horrible thought that occurs to me is: by looking into the screen of my laptop, am I already seeing the outlines of Hell forming?
Critically-acclaimed French industrial black metal band Spektr are critically-acclaimed for a reason. Releasing their new album, "Cypher", through Agonia Records, Spektr once again propel listeners into a realm of surrealism and pure ambiance, an abyss no one seems to want to escape from.
Spektr has always had an enigma of mystery about them, much like quite a few other underground black metal bands, but while those bands utilize anonymity to add an appealing aspect to their marketability, Spektr, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care much about that sort of thing. This is one of those rare bands that's refreshing, arresting, compelling, and exciting, all done in the favor of playing music because they love music.
"Cypher" was my very first experience listening to the band and from a stand of complete unfamiliarity, it turned into an astral connection that was felt on multiple levels. Their music seemed to fuel my mind, charge my heart, and move my soul.
Opening with “Hermetism”, a futuristic-sounding track that carries with it some cryptic musicality along with a mesmerizing, effecting, and atmospherically-intense style, the band seems to make it a point from the start to awe. They don’t need to shock, for they jump straight to the awe and never stop from there.
The album is full of crazy influences from all sorts of genres, a combination that produces music that is nothing short of amazing. Surprising elements pop in here and there at precise moments for a precise purpose with a very precise feel, giving listeners the impression that every single zing, twang, and tink serves some sort of bigger purpose in the artistic labor of Spektr.
Everything about the album is unexpected. “Teratology” was the standout track for me as the band easily pulled in and out of insanity and into serenity, a blend that most metal bands cannot readily say they have achieved. With all kinds of musical elements providing a jarring sense of haunting surrealism, it seemed like my musical understanding was being put under an autopsy, dissecting what I had previously perceived about metal music and leaving me, well, mindfucked.
As a listener, you’d be in constant suspense, and even during the more atmospheric and ambient parts of the songs, the hairs on your neck will be standing in anticipation of awesomeness. Spektr was really testing their listeners to comprehend, above all things, their style. Maybe it’s the Frenchness in them.
The entire experience felt out of this world and halfway through the listening process, I was suddenly brought back down to Earth as I realized that all the songs were connected. My brain imploded as I began to see how each song ended and was picked up again by the time the next song started, leaving me completely baffled as to how Spektr actually managed to write a 45 minute song that's cut up into nine different tracks with nine different themes.
When I was taking down notes for what to publish for this review, I almost felt like a madwoman under the effects of a madder experiment, going insane on conspiracy theories and math theorems derived from Satan’s whispered knowledge on his most sacred number, pi. "Cypher" will do that to you, and you probably won’t mind.
The entire experience felt like a black metal Buddha Bar, and as Buddha put it, “Spektr is awesome, hypnotic, at the least.” And I was certainly hypnotized by the single most awesome musical experience ever.
Originally written for http://www.metal-temple.com
Now over a decade into their career, Paris' Spektr rank among the more eclectic of French extreme metal acts, drawing upon an even wider palette of sounds than countrymen Blut Aus Nord, Reverence, and the like. Cypher is their third-length, and perhaps their most varied, incorporating elements of down-tempo, industrial, ambient, black metal and even some jazzy percussive tempos into an admittedly unified whole that transcends the minimalistic black/white album artwork and outward appearance of the band, which for all appearances comes across as a purely cult metal aesthetic. That they manage all of this versatility without stepping on the toes of other, comparable acts like Thorns, CSSABA, Red Harvest, and Reverence is a testament to their creativity, but in listening through the album I felt like there was a dichotomy between the commonality of, say, their riffing compositions, and everything else happening.
Spektr love samples, and put them to good use, threading them atmospherically through the tracks, and not just as intros, but saturated with effects to create a deeper, resonant effect. Granted, some are pretty obvious like the Rod Serling/Twilight Zone material ("The Singularity"), but they still fit into the band's oblique and ominous themes, and help provoke a sense of the unknown here. Cypher has a good deal of variety when it comes to its individual makeup of tracks. Some, like "Hermetism" or "Decorporation", are little more than vignettes and interludes of rumbling, dark ambient; whilst others, such as "Teratology" or "Cypher" itself are rather enormous, clocking in at 9-11 minutes. Lengthy bursts of solemn, spacious noise and feedback are balanced off against metallic surges of Scandinavian styled, dissonant/minor riffing, while the bass lines are configured into whooshing grooves that help transform Spektr's obfuscated landscape into something more distinctly interesting and progressive in nature than your garden variety industrial/black. The programming and drums are likewise curious, ranging from a live kit feel to more noise-integrated glitch mode, but often dropping out for long periods of time that the ambient elements can take center stage.
In terms of riffing style and substance, I did feel like there were a number scattered through the album which felt pretty typical or familiar of old Norse influences; but then, there were moments in tracks like "Antimatter" where they took on a more psychedelic impact not unlike Finland's great Oranssi Pazuzu. This is also more or less an instrumental outing: you might get a muffled growl or a scream, but the samples provide most of the 'narration' for the album. Thankfully there's so much going on elsewhere that it doesn't lose anything by way of this omission. Some leads and snarling, wretched vocals would have helped the album in the long run, but it's nonetheless an effective nightmarescape, frightful and perturbing if not utterly hostile and inaccessible. I'd cite "Teratology" as a particular favorite for that noisy, jungle/jazz intro, and "Antimatter" for how its roiling, textured noise erupts into the sharpness of the black metal guitars, but all around, Cypher is quite something to experience in the isolation of your own slipping sanity; and especially if you dig similar acts like Stagnant Waters or Reverence you'd do well to grate your teeth on this.