Subtlety is not Spectres‘ strong suit. Their debut album is called Dying, the unsettling cover features the distorted face of a drowning man, and a quick glance at the tracklist reveals songs entitled This Purgatory and Blood In The Cups.
Of course the idea of judging a book by its cover (or album for that matter) is not necessarily a sound policy, but in this case it’s legitimate. This is an album that deals with the darker side of life, and the barrage of noise that Spectres create suggests that they view life and death as a series of horrific events that can only be reflected by strangulated guitars and white noise. Sometimes anger and catharsis is the only way forward. Whilst there are moments on Dying that could find the band being described as shoegaze, the truth is the band are just too focused to spend their time inspecting their laces and getting lost in tonal hazes. Spectres are driven and alert, forcing the noise forward like a drill, attacking the senses with unrelenting abandon.
It’s no surprise then that they set the tone from the off with Drag, which is essentially a minute and a half of noise, not unlike Throbbing Gristle jamming in a slaughterhouse. From there, they launch straight into the squall of Where Flies Sleep, an insistent and chaotic charge of noise and rumbling drums. This is not to say that Spectres ignore melody in favour of volume and discord, far from it. The likes of Family manage to harness the band’s vigour and way with a melody perfectly. That its chorus deals with a history of addiction within the family is almost obscured by some deftly orchestrated harmonised vocals, the squall of feedback at the end of the song points to an undercurrent of dysfunction, just in case it was missed. Lump is an all out assault of piercing feedback, bombastic drumming and insistent bass that combine threateningly but fail to completely swamp its insistent chanted vocal line.
Amongst the waves of fear and horror, there are moments of light and shade, and even relative calm on the album, which is fortunate, because a full 50 minutes of aural assault would be far too oppressive. Sea Of Trees, for example opens in a fairly sedate and introspective manner before being punctuated with a barrage of noise to counteract the laidback groove, it focuses the attention in dramatic fashion. Admittedly it feels a little cribbed from My Bloody Valentine‘s You Made Me Realise, but it’s a good trick when handled as masterfully as this. This Purgatory maintains an unsettling atmosphere by utilising swirling mists of feedback but also allowing plenty of space for the vocals. Blood In The Cups shimmers and smoulders with menace; the vocals drenched in reverb and underpinned by an ominous bass pulse. When the inevitable crash of guitar noise comes, its impact is heightened.
Importantly, Spectres understand that noise alone isn’t enough, and it’s here that their songwriting skills are sharpest. These three songs in particular showcase the power of Spectres. It’s not that the all out thrash of Mirror, or the Sonic Youth inspired Sink aren’t impressive – they are – but alongside the likes of Sea Of Trees, they don’t quite measure up. Despite this, Dying is a fine debut that suggests Spectres have a lot more to offer.