Mechanical dissonance, black metal, experimental tones – all things alluring, no? Well, it is to a select few individuals with a taste for the twisted, anyway. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that the French seem to have an affinity for black metal with a twisted, experimental tinge. With bands like Deathspell Omega and the highly influential Blut aus Nord pioneering the dissonant, mangled tones, it’s no surprise that black metal outfit Spektr also hail from the same shores. They do have one rather unique aspect to the sound that sets them quite apart from such peers; that being the total absence of vocals, which is rather unusual for both black metal and metal as a whole. The few times I’ve experienced instrumental metal, I’ve been less than impressed (Pelican), which may go far to explain why we don’t see much of it. Spektr have a lot on the line because they are defying the norm. There’s no doubt instrumental music can be fantastic, no one can possibly deny that. The amount of post-rock and jazz I listen to, all of which have no vocals, almost outclasses the amount of metal I listen to. So not all is lost for Cypher, Spektr‘s third opus after a seven (!) year break from releasing full lengths. An instrumental, dissonant experience that goes to all lengths to fuck with you.
Usually when a band completely eschews the idea of a vocal performance, they have to do a lot more to keep the interest of the listener. Luckily, Spektr decided to actually give their album structure and dynamics, flowing sections that keep the listener engaged and a provide a wonderfully compelling and creepy atmosphere to bask in. They also understand pacing, which is pivotal due to just how intense this music is – make no mistake, this is some of the creepiest and blackest metal of its kind in a long time, complimented with occasional spine-tingling samples and intentionally noisy, static-filled ambience sections. Some sections are unusual to a point where you’ll wonder what on Earth is going on. The highly distorted beginning of “Teratology” for example, the olden-style recording of double bass and a mangled piano that almost reminds me of something Whourkr would do before absolutely bulldozing you with a barrage of black metal noise terrorism so intense your ears might actually hurt (in a good way).
The entire record screams unorthodox from the offset. Every structure of this album seems so mechanical, yet so unintended, despite that obviously not being the case. It’s an experience in audio intensity and utter disorientation coupled with industrial undertones about goodness knows what (the band giving absolutely no clues as to the subject of the album, a subtlety I can stand behind). It’s the album’s mechanical nature that makes it seem so inhuman, which is exactly what material like this needs to create the feeling of total alienation from human intervention. The drum machine heightens this feeling perfectly. Where it’s obviously artificial, it not only suits the music perfectly, but it’s mixed so well with everything else that nothing could have replaced it and had the same effect.
The guitars, distorted beyond the realm of reasoning are great – the constant usage of string-pulling to bend the already-dissonant notes keeps your ears in a constant state of unease. The bass, thankfully, can be heard pretty clearly throughout, and at times sounds like a double-bass (maybe it is? difficult to tell with everything else going out to be as noisy as possible). That’s just another great touch to make this feel like an experience unbeknownst to the black metal scene.
This isn’t an album with stand-out tracks – each track follows similar structures, similar movements, only different in very subtle waysthat make themselves apparent the more intently you listen. The things that change are in the undercurrent of the storm – be it some of the subtle guitar effects, some of the samples, some of the static rumbling beneath the chaos. The riffs do obviously change as to the sections themselves, but there’s an element of sameness to the experience. Intentional? I’m sure it is, but I feel by the end of the album it does wear itself a bit thin. It’s not a remarkably long album, nor would I have shortened it, but it would have been great to hear them do a bit more with the great aesthetic they had going.
This minor quibble isn’t something that would keep me away from Cypher, because this is the first time I’ve felt truly drawn into an atmosphere like this in years. The mechanical, industrial influences no doubt comparable to artists such as Whourkr and the dissonant riffing here takes what Blut aus Nord started on The Work which Transforms God a few notches higher. Perhaps not as dynamic, perhaps not as atmospheric – but every bit as creepy and skin-churning. A mechanical monster not to be missed.