Most of the time, if you look at the line-up of musicians taking to the stage together, you can get a rough idea of the sound they’re going to make. If it is guitar, bass and drums, it’s a pretty safe bet it will be some flavour of rock, if it’s a DJ and an MC or two, it’s probably going to be hip-hop (or maybe drum and bass) and if there are fifty of them, it’s going to be classical if they’re wearing suits, and ska if they’re not. So when presented with a programmer/producer, a drummer, a metal screamer and a female opera singer, you would be forgiven for being confused. That confusion is then likely to be compounded when Igorrr start to play. Brace yourself.
Igorrr’s driving force, Gautier Serre, has been honing his particular brand of craziness since the mid-noughties, but it was the augmentation of the project to this distinctly non-standard line-up as 2017’s Savage Sinusoid was created that it really came into it’s own. Although the project clearly has its roots in electronica, they have thrown so many elements into the mix that trying to ascribe Spirituality and Distortion to a single genre is an exercise in futility. Indeed, in the relevant fields in their social media profiles, they simply log their genre as ‘All’. And they’re not wrong.
Fundamentally, Igorrr is a cyborg. The electronic and organic elements of their sound are so completely interlinked that separating them out would kill them both. The decision to avoid using samples at all allows the music to flex and breathe with a natural, human feel that is particularly elusive for electronic music in general, even when several shades of lunacy are breaking loose at once. After smashing down the boundary between dance music and metal in particular, Igorrr continues to barrel around like a bull in a musical China shop, breaking off shards of whatever comes to hand and churning them into the pot.
Where Igorrr particularly excels is in colliding two (or more) entirely disparate styles and making the result sound completely natural. And after a couple of spins to familiarise oneself with Spirituality and Distortion, it becomes clear that there is more method in the madness than ever before. The songs here track closer to traditional verse/chorus/bridge structures than on previous albums, fewer explorations into discordance, and the ideas put forward here are generally given more space to breathe. All of this results in making Spirituality and Distortion as pleasurable a listen as Savage Sinusoid was baffling, and comfortably their most mature and cohesive album to date. Which, considering the breadth of ground it covers, is no mean feat.
This does mean that the most obvious reference points – The Algorithm, Squarepusher or Aphex Twin – don’t quite cut it on their own as descriptive touchstones. They still have their uses, particularly in the fractured breakbeats and elastic, hyperkinetic basslines that pepper the album. Increasingly, it feels like the most appropriate comparisons are to the collective and respective works of Trey Spruance and Mike Patton.
The influence of Secret Chiefs 3 can be felt in the use of Arabic scales and instruments, particularly on album opener “Downgrade Desert” and standout track “Camel Dancefloor”, which marries an incredibly catchy motif to a thick and squelchy dubstep groove before throwing a huge and chunky metal riff into its final third. Elsewhere, those big riffs are conjoined with spooky gothic theatrics, making full use of vocalist Laure’s simply jaw-dropping operatic range, and conjuring up a distinctly Fantomas-flavoured atmosphere, especially on “Overweight Posey” and “Barocco Satani”, which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Director’s Cut.
There is always a danger of inflating expectations by name-checking Mr. Bungle (and I say this with California being the album I most regularly refer to as my all-time favourite) but with various tracks offering increasingly demented variations on a theme with impeccable execution, it feels entirely appropriate. Indeed, album closer “Kung Fu Chevre” is a strong contender for being the most Bungle-esque song recorded since the Californians went their separate ways. As well as the relentless genre-hopping, Igorrr also have the Mr Bungle knack of doing something completely outlandish – like dropping a chiptune drum and bass interlude into an otherwise unreconstructed death metal song – with a straight face and staring you dead in the eye. Spirituality and Distortion may be crazy, but it is never goofy or played for laughs. It is lunacy, but it is absolutely sincere lunacy. There is no knowing wink to camera when they set someone apparently having a panic attack through an accordion to blast beats.
This sincerity then breeds authenticity. Whatever style Igorrr happen to alight upon, however briefly, sounds absolutely like the real deal and not some cheap pastiche. This is irrespective of whether it is Baroque, metal, funk, glitchy EDM or the kind of folk music one instinctively links with Parisian street cafes. Of the overtly metal tracks, of which there are several, it is “Polyphonic Rust” that is the particular stand-out, conjuring the same high quality of bombastic prog-metal that you would find on The Ocean‘s Precambrian.
Spirituality and Distortion is an adventure. There may be fewer moments of absolute and total shrieking insanity here than on previous Igorrr albums, but they have been replaced with deeper and more ultimately satisfying compositions. More than ever, the tracks here feel like actual songs rather than spasms and as such have a replay value far beyond the novelty factor of an opera singer fighting it out with a breakbeat and a downtuned guitar in the corner of a French nightclub. Igorrr don’t look like any other band, and they don’t sound like any other band either. They have constructed a world for themselves where quite literally anything goes, where there are no musical taboos whatsoever. That is tremendously exciting, both in the present and for the future. Certainly, anyone still sad that they were unable to get tickets to the Mr Bungle reunion shows will find much in Spirituality and Distortion to lift their spirits, and should probably consider it the first properly essential album of 2020.
Spirituality and Distortion is available March 27 via Metal Blade Records.