Near Death Experience
4/25/2008 - Review by: Etiam
Spektr just might be Candlelight Record's grimmest signing. And that is indeed saying something, considering the competition they face: Averse Sefira, 1349, Absu, and Blut Aus Nord, without even getting past the second letter of the alphabet. Hailing from France, the present bastion of black metal innovation, this duo explore the substrata of the human psyche with sardonic enthusiasm by enmeshing black ambient, noise, vocal sampling, and dissonant black metal on 'Near Death Experience'. The two members have given themselves obscure consonant-monikers (Hth, kl.K), claiming their identities to be irrelevant to the nature of their work, which ostensibly endeavors to connect living flesh to a negative vortex of malevolence and decay. Their terminology is a little more quasi-metaphysical, but the idea is essentially the same.
Understandably, this mindset doesn't lend itself well to audience empathy, and 'Near Death Experience' is a rather challenging trip as a result, even for a hardened member of the horde. Spektr aren't the most violent or deliberately nauseating group in the genre; the challenge here is to maintain enough focus to actually follow and grasp the proceedings when content itself is so aloof.
Perhaps the best way to do this is to focus on the drums, for rarely are black metal bands so distinguished through their percussion. Certainly, drummers in this genre contribute to their bands' sound, a few essentially embody it (Hellhammer, for one), but most often in black metal the drums are more complementary than integral. For Spektr, this relationship is all but reversed. kl.K's performance (as well as the production) exists in a completely different galaxy than does Hellhammer, but kl.K does seem to share in the ability to take charge of an album and given it direction. He sketches out simple beats and then jumbles them toegether in a fractured string of patterns that only makes sense in its nonsense. Traditional black metal snare abuse would be atypically orthodox for Spektr, so he instead favors his cymbals more than his snare, using the latter more as an accent than a centerpiece, and even turns to the classic hi-hat jazz syncopation for a couple tracks (which are generally the best). Altogether, it adds a weirdly intriguing dynamic to the high-treble, diminished riffing of Hth that is straightforward in comparison.
This approach makes up the greater part of the album, but only around half the tracks. The rest are devoted to ambient interludes--more engaging and textured than the usual--that introduce a greater dynamic to the album and prevent it from becoming too monotonous. On their own they aren't especially intriguing, but in the context of the album (which is indeed the sort that is best heard altogether) they are appropriate.
Ultimately, 'Near Death Experience' is a well-titled release, though not in the sense that it is the offending force, so to speak. Rather, this album is more a snapshot of how such an episode might affect someone. The maelstrom of passions, endorphins, and memories that are instantaneously aroused and just as quickly dispelled are laid out piece by agonizing piece for our contemplation. Admittedly, the individual in question must have lived a wretched life to inspire this relentless a misery, but the experiment is a worthwhile one nonetheless.
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