Album Review: Igorrr - Spirituality and Distortion
Album: Spirituality and Distortion
Genre: Basically every genre/sub-genre you can think of.
Review by Brady Irwin
These are strange, chaotic and interesting times. Times when the supposedly firm structural boundaries underneath our collective feet tease apart under threat of widespread panic, hypochondriasis and toilet paper hoarding.
Now, I don’t want to be the millionth metal journalist with a hot take on COVID-19, but I must say that the release timing of Spirituality and Distortion is unwittingly perfect. The mangling of disparate sub-genres into a strangely cohesive avant-garde whole, funnelled through an aesthetic that implies both an ancient orgy and the burning of Rome itself, is a very cathartic and strangely reassuring experience right now.
‘Downgrade Desert’ kicks off with a dark ambient and Middle Eastern acoustic riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a Cryo Chamber or Lustmord piece. Ambling behind the trilling acoustics is a careful, bluesy electric guitar, as the electronic interference and distortion (appropriate to the album title!) kicks in. A thick distorted riff ensues, one that seems almost characteristically straight-forward. In comparison to the balls-to-the-wall nature of prior effort Savage Sinusoid’s intro, with the cautious and operatic warbles of vocalist Laure Le Prunenec, the whole thing opens up as something you’d expect more from Orphaned Land than a crazed avant-metal project. That familiar breakbeat distortion of the electronic main-man Gautiere Serre builds alongside a black-metal style tremolo riff, with throaty singer/roarer Laurent Lunoir bringing in that idiomatic mix of deep chant and high rasp.
Placating the song title yet again, ‘Nervous Waltz’ wastes little time to vault from harmonic string quartet, keys and haunting background operatic vocals into a super tight, thrashing distorted electronica riff, flitting in between these themes, harsh breakbeats and blasts. A high-speed piano overture in the middle with off-putting multi-vocal chants gives the impression of a cinematic crescendo, the aural equivalent of the bad guy approaching our protagonist with a gun. All of a sudden, the theatrics are dropped into a Meshuggah-style polytechnic chug, going full metal for a breakdown that then decides its’ had enough and schizophrenically morphs into a slap-bass-synth solo and plonking of keys and beats.
So far, it’s not as viscerally grindcore-ish in its’ severity as the prior effort so far, almost like we’re being teased into it on this album. Okay, sure, I’ll bite. Let’s hear ‘Very Noise’, then. Surely – oh yep, there it is. With a breakbeat that’d make The Prodigy grin in approval over a janky, jazzy math-metal riff signed off by Mike Patton himself, the silly really starts to break out here with all manner of weird samples, claps, bass runs and hits, like your five-year-old nephew who has just discovered the demo keyboard so maliciously placed at convenient height in your local JB Hi-Fi. At one minute forty-seven seconds, a blasting breakout was expected but not exactly delivered. Alright, now Gautiere is just toying with us, huh?
Unbeknownst to the projects’ madman creator, this sense of push-pull ease perhaps naturally fits into our default psychological state at present and is oddly welcoming in such strange times outside of the headphones. That quintessential tapped-key string quartet and the droning distorted bass line of ‘Hollow Tree’ continues things along in that perpetual state of ambiguity, Laure soaring over a gritty, distortion-drenched bassline that melts off into what can only be described as a fever-dream cinematic haze of keys, before adjoining back together once more.
Our immune system seeming to have responded to the slow-burn nausea of the prior track, Igorrr holds no surprises for what’s in the store if the listener is only to read track titles first. Session Oud player Mehdi Haddab strings the delightfully insinuating and sly-sounding chords of his instrument amongst punchy booty-shuffling electronica in ‘Camel Dancefloor’. The wonderfully-camp play-off between spaghetti-Western electric guitar chords, the bounciness of the Oud and the slap-heavy bass of other session guest player Mike Leon creates an atmosphere that’s only just off-kilter enough to not be able to dance to, but too undeniably groovy to sit with head still. Claps and electronic stomps briefly give way to a crashing metal riff, jostling back and forth with tremolo and electronica in a tumultuous fight for ear-time.
Then, we – wait, what?!
What is George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fischer doing here? Is he lost? Shouldn’t he be at home practicing social distancing, playing World of Warcraft or something?! How did he traverse into the dimension of 8-bit chiptune and why is he roaring with ferocity at me?
These questions aren’t really answered in totality by the heady mix of metal riffage and chirpy electronica when he suddenly pops in to blast his patented visceral screams at you on ‘Parpaing’, but hey, here he is. Strangely catchy in his barked refrains over tremolo and programmed blast-beats, it’s when he is barking and screeching ‘this is the house of death/this is the house of corpses!’ over early-80s arcade machine style 8-bit and breakbeats that things take an interesting turn. Something I don’t think most of us were expecting at any point in our lifetimes, but it works strangely well. George’s usual lovely lyrical tapestry and the metallic feel of the tracks remainder go full Cannibal Corpse for a bit before the whole thing is washed away by electronic distortion. I… yeah.
Okay, right. Got you. Yep.
Igorrr were just warming us up. ‘Musette Maximum’ takes a trans-Atlantic flight over a different musical ocean and lands in the moustache-twirling backyard of session accordionist Pierre Mussi and harpsichordist Benjamin Bardiaux approach us like the French waiter in that Helga’s ad from the early-2000’s – just an outright tongue-in-cheek pastiche of carnival-style music over weird slap and breakbeat. Tremolo and melodic keys peel that off, but not before the Euro-circus sideshow flits back in over a crashing rhythm section and your auditory lobe has just given up on trying to make this into one conceptual whole thing. Like the swarms of shoppers committing war crimes over toilet paper, don’t try to reason within; just stand back and bask in the outright surrealism of it all. Brain-warping enough to spread your cerebrospinal fluid back to you on a slice of toast.
Sensing your trepidation and fearful, giddy confusion, ‘Himalaya Massive Ritual’ does nothing to allay the queasiness. Rumbling from prayer bells and bowls to a gigantic black metal trill and polyrhythmic math metal, the most evil and heavy of tracks so far employs sheer organic heaviness to keep the crazy train in momentum. Oddly enough, it’s a calming space to have just sheer riffage to focus on for a while. Wailing leads and thundering riffs provide a neck-bobbing sense of surety, before being replaced by a midsection of operatic vocals, hymnal chants, Kanoon (played by Fotini Kokkala) and Oud instrumental tinkling, etc. Visual imagery abounds of Indiana Jones trying to work his way through this desert temple of hypnotic and operatic Middle Eastern inspired dirge, in a truly epic feel. The cautious violins of session player Timba Harris add to the mystical riff crescendo, a dynamic staircase of escalating harmonies and heavy chords that is expertly woven.
‘Lost in Introspection’ follow from brief static into a tinkling, urgent piano and breakbeat crossover, courtesy of session pianist Matt Lebofsky above thick bass and drums. With a heavy rhythmic backbone, keys are given chance to plink at will around more of those eerie multi-layered vocal harmonies. Again, the aura of a protagonist soon to potentially meet his/her demise is a strong pervading aesthetic here, a sense of orchestral noir-flavoured slow dread, building into a chunky off-time breakbeat-and-guitar-solo salad. Off-key clanging of the piano signifies they’ve had enough with being straight-laced, and then… silence?
‘Overweight Poesy’ warmly slides in behind nonchalantly afterwards, a complete thematic 180-turn to the desert-laced aura of prior tracks, a subtle interplay between the Eastern instruments and operatic vocals. A truly evil Deliverance-era Opeth styled breakdown punctuates the orchestral feeling with some pained wails and screeches, which are chopped up like bacon pieces between broken electronica and extremely brief tremolo runs. Another sickly piano, breakbeat and riff fest mangles what’s left of the track into a soup of frustratingly almost-there levels of buildup, releasing into more operatic and riff-focused breaks before relaxing back into the Middle Eastern tones.
And then we get a full-on cop of pure breakbeat electronica like The Algorithm on PCP for the next segue, ‘Paranoid Bulldozer Italiano’. Mustering as much machismo as the title track suggests, a super rambling distorted riff swells up alongside evil tremolo, those pained shrieks and a pairing of electronica and double-kicks for a satisfyingly fast, heavy number. Evil movie-villain style violin, keys and operatic vocals muscle their way in along odd-timed electronica before being wrestled from the foreground by more electro-metal. Musically, you get the sense of a crowded room full of instruments and subgenres all pushing, pulling and elbowing for the ears, as though they were the last roll on the shelf at your local ALDI.
A truly deliciously evil metal riff punches on with spooky operatic tones for your aural consideration in ‘Barocco Satani’, a piece that seems like the Opera House was hijacked by a metal band and both parties are still vying for the mic. By now, admittedly, the dynamic has become more predictable. However, there is just that much going on between the meeting of these two musical worlds that is different and intriguing, like the blast-beat laden outro, that it doesn’t matter too much by now anyway.
‘Polyphonic Rust’ is, once again, a handy titular as to what to expect within. An intro that brings a djent flavour to proceedings, with a drawling and, well, rusty-sounding wail of leads and arpeggios. A purely choral section does away with any help for a moment before being brought back into a truly leviathan-sized outro that is a very heavy and heady mix of slap bass, distortion and steady, crashing beats. High-pitched choral harmonies spliced between make it a weird means of phasing out, but it works.
‘Kung-Fu Chevre’ eschews the traditionally female choral vocals, for a very Middle Eastern male-female traditional sung intro which is flicked off for more schizophrenic accordion, electronica and harpsichord ADHD-addled merry-go-round. Traditional male Middle Eastern singing spliced between operatic vocals, bluesy guitar and a danceable polka-style beat turns the crazy up a notch. Things only get weirder and weirder with culminating pained shrieks, sheep noises, wedding-style group chants and a breakdown which sounds like someone’s Nonna on huge amounts of meth with a Peavey amp and harpsichord, some funky beats and then… that’s it.
Wait – that’s it? Huh.
Well, decidedly, all in all, Spirituality and Distortion is a much more diverse and sombre number than 2017’s Savage Sinusoid. That isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of fever-pitch moments of clever insanity in here, or that this is anything less than a dogpile of what seems like a thousand genres. True to form, it all somehow works, it’s all very brain-scrambling and makes a great soundtrack to the widespread moral panic, ambiguity and disconnectedness of our current context.
Crazy music, for crazy times.
Spirituality and Distortion is out March 27th via Metal Blade Records.