Spektr - Near Death Experience (Candlelight CD)
If there were some kind of a contest for a band to have the most non-descript biography ever, Spektr would surely be the front-runners. "This should not be seen as a gathering of two humans playing music, for it doesn't simply stand for "music" but a real Communication between an incarnated being and vibrations coming from a non-manifested paradigma where the Essence of what has suffered thousands of incarnations and names wanders eternally through the halls of it's last breath."? All I wanna know is who plays what, man! Luckily I have the Metal Archives to tell me that Spektr is a two-piece from the fertile black metal grounds of France (that's not irony). I've heard their other album "Et Fugit Intera Fugit Irreparabile Tempus (No Longer Human Senses)", and it wasn't terribly mind-blowing...actually it was kind of a weird, sloppy mess. I think they've gotten their shit togethre on this album, though. It's still weird, but much tighter and more composed.
"Near Death Experience" opens with "The Violent Stink of Twitching Terror", an 8-minute industrial blackened slab of sonic harshness and hatred if there ever existed one. There's kind of a long, droney intro and then it implodes into a series of drum rolls, unintelligible vocal samples, and molten-metal guitar. It's kind of fragmented though, and often stops when you expect it to get going and vice versa. Nevertheless it's a good indicator of what to expect from the rest of "Experience" - a bizarre, off-kilter, noisy, blackened industrial excursion ala Anaal Nathrakh or Axis of Perdition (when they were good/before they discovered Silent Hill). Track two's "Astral Descent" proves this was no fluke, as my headphones are practically wimping in pain trying to keep up with everything Spektr is throwing into the speakers (spekrs?). It's probably the most straightforward and easy-to-grasp black metal song the band play on the whole album, and it leads right into "Climax", a four-minute ambient drone interlude (so I guess the title is ironic then?). Think maybe Whitehouse circa "Thank Your Lucky Stars" and some of the lesser-known bands on Campbell Kneale's Battlecruiser imprint. It paves a nice path for the album centrepiece "Phantom Reality", which is again totally harsh, brutal, and swampy, but a bit of a chore to wade through at almost 10 minutes. "Visualization" is another sort of interlude, although noisier and weirder than the other one with a mutant female (?) vocal sample and all kinds of screeching dark ambient/power electronics over top. It's times like these where I pose to myself a classic philosophical question: are Spektr a noise band playing metal or a metal band playing noise?
"Whatever the Case May Be" is certainly strange, but for a different reason altogether. It actually does start out like "Deleted Scenes..."-era Axis of Perdition or Ulver's more experimental side, but then there's a quasi-jazz drum beat and I just don't know what to think. Slowly it disintegrates and comes back anew with a bit more of a metal flair - they even find a couple minutes near the end to toss in some more of that vitriolic black metal they do so well. And though "Disturbing Signal" is only two minutes, they also manage to squeeze some jamming in there, bookended by the now-trademark drones and electronic clatter. "Unio Mystica" is the final interlude-ish jaunt before the last track "His Mind Ravaged, His Memory Shattered". It actually reminds me a lot of the very first song, but even more distorted and skewed. There's a pretty steady polyrhythm of sorts going on, but the ever-shifting electronics, guitars and vocals buried way down in the mix make it a touch of a headspinner...of course then there's the part where everything drops out for a second and comes stampeding back a thousand times more wrecked, and you start to imagine if this could be the sonic equivalent of looking into the eye of the basilisk...or something.
So! In short this is a Spektr who are much better than I remember them previously, but they've still got flaws - the first and last tracks on this album are great, and there's definitely some good stuff in the middle ("Whatever the Case May Be" and a good portion of "Phantom Reality"), but it doesn't all hold together so well. Maybe it's just my general distaste for dark ambient seething through, but I could do without the constant pauses for sometimes-not-so-quiet contemplation. Anaal Nathrakh's "The Codex Necro" still reigns supreme over this black/noise genre for now, but if these two dudes keep their noses to the grindstone, then there's no telling what the future may hold!