With the world going to hell in a hand-basket, we could use a lot less of is craziness, unpredictability and erraticity. When we crave this normalcy, however, recently things really seem to be flying off the deep end. Though even in the midst of the worldwide crisis which permeates every aspect of life as we know it, 2020 has been a phenomenal year for music so far. Left and right, artists are releasing brand new material, remasters, demos, mixtapes, and everything in between. It is always stunning to receive a notification on my phone of a new single released from someone completely unexpected or seeing posts on social media about a brand new surprise album (or in Nine Inch Nails‘ case, two new albums). For this, I am thankful, as I do believe art is the healthiest way to channel all of this anxiety and frustration that our society is bottling up at this point in time. Creativity exists in all of us, and no matter what form it may take, using any outlet to convey emotions is an extremely healthy way to deal with things.
But with that deep dive into the current psychological climate of our world out of the way, let’s get down to brass tax. Igorrr is not music for distraught individuals at this time in our lives. When I heard Savage Sinusoid in 2017, I didn’t know what to think. By taking really ugly metal screams, guitar, and drums, and adding accordion, glitchy electronics, operatic female vocals, and far more, Frenchman Gautier Serre confused the everliving hell out of my high school ears. Undeniably baroque, I became almost infatuated with the music of Igorrr, as I had never heard such sonic perplexity yet. When I received tickets to see the group live in Boston from a former girlfriend, I was over the moon. I just had to see this in performance form. Push came to shove, and I was unable to attend the show, and was devastated due to this. I stopped listening to Igorrr and moved on, but it still held a fond place in my heart for this strange collective.
But here we are in 2020, with new music to discuss, and this is a confusing one to talk about. The first three singles came out earlier this year, and I have to admit, they were bad. My disappointment could not be numbered, but I was extremely disheartened going into this release. “Very Noise” was Igorrr like I knew them, but a song that is a minute and a half? This is not an exploited, unfinished XXXTentacion demo, no. This is a group signed to Metal Blade Records, one of the biggest heavy metal records in the world. The two following singles, “Parpaing” (which features the eponymous George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher of Cannibal Corpse and Dethklok fame) and “Camel Dancefloor” didn’t impress me either, and upon discussing with a friend, claimed Spirituality and Distortion would be “really bad. Like, really bad.” I could not have been more wrong.
I still hold my beliefs on the singles of this release being the weakest songs on the 14-track LP: “Very Noise” is too short for its own good, “Parpaing” builds to absolutely nothing, and “Camel Dancefloor” is just a weaker version of many tracks on this album (although, this one is growing on me). But this album does not make sense. Why would Metal Blade want to put their weakest effort forward? To me, it is completely counterintuitive to the band’s goal to promote their worst material for their upcoming record. Unless maybe, Serre wanted this to be the case? In the spastic, upside-down logic of Igorrr, I could actually believe this. So, I choose to do just that. And if you are like me, nervous to listen to the record, for this reason, don’t be. As I am soon to get into, this is an extremely strong project from our favorite breakcoring Frenchman.
I feel like the best way to analyze Spirituality and Distortion, like other Igorrr releases, is on a track-by-track basis, as each and every track is different from the next. Starting with “Downgrade Desert,” the immediate thing one can notice is the Middle Eastern/Western Asian-tone that a lot of the clean sections put on. This track alone reaffirmed my faith in this release, as its organized yet maddening mixture of sounds left me craving more from the other tracks that I could not get from the singles. It is also a pretty standard metal track in all accounts, which satiates my particular tastes. This shift to metal came after introducing a full ‘band’, which included operatic soprano Laure Le Prunenec, fellow screamer Laurent Lunoir (both of whom are members with Serre of French Gothic/Doom Metal band Öxxö Xööx) and magnificently proficient drummer Sylvain Bouvier (Trepalium). “Nervous Waltz” follows the chunky metal track before, and begins with a wonderful string quartet to lead in the accordions, soaring sopranos, and death metal riffs. After a quick black metal breakdown, the track becomes a dramatic harmonic vocal and piano arrangement which is eventually rejoined by the strings and modern metal tones. The trick with understanding any of Igorrr‘s music is to just experience, and not questions Serre’s compositions. The dubstep electronics that end the song off just do not make sense on paper, but the composer is able to make it all fit into the short contents of (almost) every track.
The already infamous “Very Noise” is next, and wow. I just wish the track was longer. Nearly completely instrumental, it has a very all over the place rhythm, chock full of metal and electronic fuzzies that make track cool but ultimately lacking in the grand scheme of the album. “Hollow Tree” is a highlight for sure, with its harpsichord opening as infectiously curious as any of the riffs that follow it. The annoying whine of Le Prunenec is so offputting but I love it all the same because it fits so well within the wacky universe we have already jumped into. “Camel Dancefloor” begins with an extremely catchy sitar riff that will carry you throughout the song, and combated with an excellent drumbeat, the song turns into tame banger amidst the track-list. While I wouldn’t call it particularly standout, it’s extremely engaging and really drives home the foreign folk vibe that Igorrr is pushing for all over the album. The track also, unlike its fellow singles, builds to a pretty awesome conclusion, which is a great touch.
The only reason “Parpaing” is a single is due to its high profile feature, which I can understand. Other than the fun choppy vocal effects put on the deep growl of the Cannibal Corpse vocalist, and the intense tinny drum part, this track really doesn’t do much. While the riff is cool, it doesn’t go anywhere and ends exactly the same as it begins. I’m not a fan of this type of songwriting, so it feels like an unneeded and stripped cog in an already functional machine. “Musette Maximum” is one of my favorites of Spirituality and Distortion, with its wonderful warbly polka accordion riff lead transitioning phenomenally into the melodic black metal that follows after. The track is quick but does exactly what it wants to do in the short time allotted.
The current longest tune in the Igorrr discography appears here as well, titled “Himalaya Massive Ritual,” and the name speaks for itself. Beginning a very technical tribal drum solo, the cut’s machine-gun blast beats and death metal riffage which follow soon after set up the strange Gregorian a capella group vocals later on in the track with perfection. When the two sections collaborate, we have a pretty awesome symphonic death metal song that the group may have touched on before, but never to the full extent. The strings in the latter half of this song play a really beautiful melody and the climax which the track builds to after. This is as ‘massive’ as any cut on Spirituality and Distortion gets. Following this is “Lost In Introspection,” which is a much smoother, and slightly jazzier piece that is a great follow up to the epicness before it, but is, in its own right, really awesome. While very few of the crazy Igorrr electronics are present on this track, the brief vocal performance of Le Prunenec and extremely proficient Bouvier are phenomenal on the back half of the 5-minute runtime. While Bouvier’s talent is plastered all over this release, the former is always a highlight when she appears.
Around this point in the album, the tracklist starts to drag. Not to say that the songs are bad, but there was a little too much filler in the first half, so the backside seems bloated in turn. This is really unfortunate, as “Overweight Posey” has perhaps the best vocal performance from Le Prunenec on the entire record, therefore making the song one of the most engaging and interesting. The same goes for “Paranoid Bulldozer Italiano.” Both of these are pretty by-the-numbers Igorrr, which is really, really good, yet I still feel less inclined to listen to the last four or five tracks here, the latter of which has a legitimate opera section, sounding like it was ripped from a twisted, horrifying version of Gioachino Rossini‘s The Barber of Seville. To reference, Savage Sinusoid had three fewer tracks and was a full 15 minutes shorter than Spirituality and Distortion. This is a strange phenomenon for me as if a back half is stronger than the front, I should be inclined to listen to the release all the way through to reach those awesome songs. I do not feel that with this album, however, and I am still left puzzled by Igorrr‘s music in yet another way.
The last three tracks, “Barocco Satani,” “Polyphonic Rust,” and “Kung-Fu Chèvre” are all good tracks in their own right, although they are much more tame bangers than the two cuts before them. I am a huge fan of all of them for their own reasons: “Barocco Satani” continues and drives home the tone of “Paranoid Bulldozer Italiano” with great stride, as “Polyphonic Rust” includes another phenomenal vocal performance from the leading lady of Igorrr while accompanied by a pretty decent extreme metal riff, and the finale is a somber duet between Serre and Le Prunenec that evolves into an accordion-driven heavy metal polka that is as strange as is it is well-performed. This song also comes complete with a goat bleat and slap bass finale just to top the album off. All of these songs are great but suffer from being during the second half of the hour.
So where do I stand on Spirituality and Distortion? I don’t know yet. With Igorrr, it’s hard to judge from first appearances. A lot of the tracks either grow or wane on your mood, preference, and too many other factors to count. At this point, I prefer the group’s 2017 album more, but I could see this change. While a few of the cuts here are truly lackluster, a lot of them are superstars in the roster. Describing music of such variety and craze is difficult, however, and while I am not a fan of judging a book by its cover, this one is as close as it gets: A large ‘I’ with the legs of a jester dances to polka while nomads chant religious rituals in the middle of a desert.
Final Verdict: Mï vï lï ä säë, Cündü säë, Ü vü
Favorite Trakcs: “Lost In Introspection,” “Himalaya Massive Ritual,” “Musette Maximum”
FFO: There isn’t anyone like Igorrr
1. “Downgrade Desert”
2. “Nervous Waltz”
3. “Very Noise”
4. “Hollow Tree”
5. “Camel Dancefloor”
6. “Parpaing” ft. George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher
7. “Musette Maximum”
8. “Himalaya Massive Ritual”
9. “Lost In Introspection”
10. “Overweight Posey”
11. “Paranoid Bulldozer Italiano”
12. “Barocco Satani”
13. “Polyphonic Rust”
14. “Kung-Fu Chèvre