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Spectre - Psychic Wars

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Artist: Spectre

Album: Psychic Wars

Label: Wordsound

Review date: Apr. 28, 2003

Dark Beats and Dank Sounds From the Other Side

Spectre's world isn't like that in which the rest of us live, I suspect. Spectre's world is a dark, dank back alley, with echoes of doom-laden bass pulses and the distant clanks and thuds of a factory on the outskirts of town. On Psychic Wars, Skiz Fernando, aka Spectre, head honcho of the Wordsound label, returns with another dose of his apocalyptic sonic vision. From the first moments of the untitled spoken word introduction, "I can't take it, sir...It's everywhere," you know you're in for more audio claustrophobia from the master. However, this album may actually represent a step up towards the light as compared to his previous outings. While it's certainly not an afternoon of sunlight, it's not quite as dingy as, say, his previous album, The End. An unusual collection of vocal samples in various languages is scattered throughout the album, including pieces in Japanese, French, and Spanish. The samples are presumably taken from movies, but who knows; they provide the vocal commentary on many tracks.

This time out Spectre brings along a few guests like Sensational and Honeychild, but most of the tracks are instrumental or very nearly so. Spectre's own deep, pitch-shifted spoken words grace some of the pieces, like "The Struggle Continues," which opens the album after a brief introductory track. The song moves slowly and heavily, like a slow-walking collossus of massive drums and bass, deep-shifted vocals and a middle-eastern styled horn sample. "The death sentence on the planet remains..."

"Valour" is propelled by an industrial-style percussion rhythm, boosted by thick samples. A beautiful melodic movement, sounding like an Arabic motif, lies amidst it. It's a particularly strong instrumental track, but the piece-de-resistance is probably "Love," with a solid rhythm and a dense blend of eastern-flavored samples, from a vocal cry to low-fi melodic element. Admittedly, some of the seams are showing -- the fit of the samples is rhythmically awkwardly at times, but rather than detracting from the song, I think this adds some grit and realism. In any case, it's great stuff.

Farther on, "The Rolling Force" blends click-clack percussion over a solid beat with bass synth boosts and samples of some sort of string instrument, and "The Fire Within" rolls forward atop a dense bass pulse and steady snare hit, with a sweet symphonic spike holding up vocal samples that sound like they're steeped in noir.

The songs featuring guest vocalists of course have different flavors, like "Secrets," which is smoother and more accessible, given a smoky jazz sort of feel thanks to Honeychild's vocals, which are husky and shiny. Consider it a kind of goth-jazz-hop, if you like. "Blazed," featuring Sensational, is less foreboding than most of the other tracks, with more of a standard hiphop beat going. Sensational's high-energy delivery is a contrast to the album's primarily down-tempo atmosphere. The other track with Sensational, "Hocus Pocus," (also featuring Black Chameleon) reflects Spectre's modus operandi more closely, with a kick you can feel rather than hear, skittering and scraping metallic sounds, and dark rumbling noises.

Featuring the Space Poet, "Dark Matter" is dark indeed, with strong words and eerie vocal samples. A slow, plodding rhythm sets the foundation for buzzing outerspace noises and low, humming sounds. The remaining tracks are pure Spectre, melancholy and slow, orchestral stabs and ultra-low synth bass dominating the doom-laden sonic environments.

While Spectre's modus operandi certainly isn't for everyone, the ominous sound fields and heavy, often cavernous beats are powerful. In these times particularly, I can't help but find the mood here to be more fitting than I might like. Tune this in late some night and you'll find yourself travelling on the far side of the curtain, wondering how you got there.

By Mason Jones

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