Friday, January 22, 2016

Spektr - The Art to Disappear

Spektr’s latest and better-than-excellent release, The Art to Disappear, may be devoid of lyrics, but the overall emotional pallet can be summed up by the following sample: “We have seen illusion and reality begin to overlap, and fuse.” Using varied audio clips from sources like Twin Peaks, The Animatrix, Mondo Keyhole, and Taxi Driver; Spektr paints a mystifying and fuzzy picture of the album’s reality blurring themes. This ambiguity is remarkably apt because of how the amazing album transcends the usual trappings of industrial black metal. The Art to Disappear isn’t the kind of constant interstellar-mechanical-pummeling that you may hear in bands like Mysticum or even Thorns; the atmosphere is comparatively laid back. There’s an eerie lounge vibe that makes you feel like you are listening to a 50’s nuclear PSA from an alternate reality, and it’s incredibly compelling. Having said that, the album is still rife with fantastically heavy moments, and the ambient sections never make you feel like you are stuck in listening to a monotonous radioplay. (The Axis of Perdition’s Urfe is the best example of this kind of a pitfall.)

Since Spektr isn’t focused on always using industrial black metal’s drier cliches, the album is given a remarkable breath of fresh air through absolutely beautiful percussion. Yes, it’s mechanically precise, but holy shit does it sound full and rich; everything from the drum samples to the more traditional industrial samples sounds incredible. Some of the cymbals are perhaps even better sounding than standing right next to the real thing. The real star of the mix however is the guitar’s crunchy tone, which is more satisfying than the crunch of stomping through a thin piece of ice on the ground when you were five years old. It’s a major part of how the album manages to be so convincingly heavy. You have an inherently satisfying sound, even if you were to strip the razor sharp and crushing riffs down to only the palm muted tremolo picking. This is also a clear contrast to the band’s tone on their prior album, Cypher, with its characteristic emphasis on legato slides and flanger/phaser infused guitars.

There is so much on this album that is just spectacularly executed. “Through the Darkness of Future Past” boasts a truly brilliant use of simple unisons - then the band bends them into a sharp minor-second intervals, and the band lingers on them. “From the Terrifying to the Fascinating” has the guitars drop out for the midsection to provide a break, which is kept interesting through the intricate hi-hat playing over the pulsating synthesizer. Even the way the samples are used is creative and thoughtful. I absolutely love how the band takes a really overused quote from Taxi Driver and focuses on a different part of the line. This completely reshapes the meaning behind it. On “Kill Again” the intro’s rhythmic theme is reprised, and the words “kill again” are repeated over and over as they are mixed into the earlier theme. It works, because the focus is on the rhythm rather than the words. You never get a cheesy impression from what is basically a murder chant.

All of the interludes, samples, and changes in atmosphere highlight how masterfully balanced the album is. (I say this as someone with little patience for filler, especially ambient filler.) At just under 40 minutes long, the pacing feels just right because it never drags, but it also leaves you with a sense that you’ve heard a complete album. For those reasons The Art to Disappear is easy to listen to, and the best part is that it has the depth to make it an experience well worth repeating. Along the same lines, this isn’t some kind of catchy riff-tastic album designed for you to hum along to. While the band rises above hackneyed industrial themes it’s important to keep in mind that this is, at its heart, a fundamentally alienating album. Spektr even makes this point explicit with the Animatrix sample: “Your flesh is a relic. A mere vessel.” This is one of the best albums I have heard in quite a while. Overall, The Art to Disappear lodges itself right into that precarious sweet spot, where there is a wonderful balance between creativity, heaviness, and atmosphere.

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