Let the End Times Roll: Spectre - The True & Living
by Dave Segal
on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 8:47 AM
Back in the ’90s, Skiz Fernando Jr. headed WordSound, one of the era’s most interesting and intriguing labels. A true DIY bastion of innovation, WordSound championed (and still champions) artists who explored the mystical/occult phenomena and frequencies via the darkest interzones of hiphop and dub. Studio sorcerers like Bill Laswell, Prince Paul, Mick Harris, and Scotty Hard have issued crucial recordings for WordSound. It’s also the place where goofy, polysyllabic MC Paul Barman and scatological jokers Hawd Gankstuh Rappuhs MC’s Wid Ghatz got their starts, so don’t think WordSound can’t enjoy a hearty giggle now and then. (Former Seattle producers Prince Charming and Philosophy Major also released wildly eclectic CDs for WS in the late ’90s and early ’00s.) It may require some digging to find WordSound releases, but you will be rewarded for your diligence.
But the cornerstone of WordSound’s discography always has been Fernando, aka Spectre, aka the Ill Saint, and many other pseudonyms, and the leader of groups like Dubadelic and Scarab. Spectre’s apocalyptic dub funk induces chilling tremors and a pervasive, invigorating darkness that make the Wu-Tang Clan catalog sound like straight-up party fodder. His trilogy under the Spectre moniker encompassing The Illness (1995), The Second Coming (1997), and The End (1999) reveals Fernando’s gripping eschatological gestalt (say that fast five times). Bolstered by thematically pertinent quotes from Aleister Crowley and W.B. Yeats, this trilogy sometimes comes over a bit heavy-handed, but its visceral impact and conceptual integrity re: pre-millennium tension still resonate in 2013.
In the mid-’00s, I lost track of WordSound and Spectre. Both moved operations from Brooklyn (aka Crooklyn) to Baltimore and the musical output of the former slowed considerably. But Fernando’s not been idle by any means. He’s shot two films (Crooked and Made in Brazil), written a cookbook titled Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking, and is producing a cooking show on YouTube called Pan Asian. Dude’s also issued several Spectre full-lengths that show he hasn’t lost his sinister, end-times touch.
Spectre’s latest and ninth album, The True & Living, is “livicated” to his late nephew, John Fernando, and it continues to push doomsday scenarios both musically and with sampled dialogue. The second track, “Impending Doom,” sets the tone, with Bernard Herrmann-like orchestrations and urgent funk beats augmenting news reports of natural disasters, scores of birds dying in mid-air, magnetic north moving, etc. It’ll really ratchet up the paranoia in skittish listeners, ending with that Twilight Zone theme flute flourish and an explosion. “Destroyer” features a scientist talking about “pole shifts” that could happen in a mere 28 minutes and the ensuing chaostrophe that will ensue.
The title track features pressure-filled, existential raps by Wu-Tang’s Killah Priest over triumphant horn charts and vertiginous string arrangements. It sounds like a Hollywood thriller soundtrack hijacked for life-and-death hiphop purposes. “Reality TV” bumps like Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” (and George Clinton's "Atomic Dog"), but Spectre infiltrates that unstoppable party rhythm with way more sinister sonic events. “The Omega Point” and “Night Train to Cairo” are as portentous as hell (literally), with complex, choppy rhythms and illbient atmospheres redolent of Mick Harris (Scorn, the Weakener) and Byzar.
“Triumph” with mashed-potatoes-mouthed MC Sensational uses a snippet of another part of The Twilight Zone’s theme to help create an eerie aura. “Goat’s Blood/Orion” is spooked dub of the darkest hue. Abandon all hope, ye who skank here. “My Rifle” and “The Good Fight” are perhaps the funkiest tracks of the LP's 14, but Spectre refuses to relent with the darkness and gravity. The aptly titled “Panic” contains a screwed and chopped sample of the Smiths song of the same name and closes the album with a drum & bass-inflected, calamitous finality.
The True & Living is for hiphop and dub aficionados who crave the most evil-sounding shit in those fields, but who have no truck with cartoonish renderings of humanity and studio trickery that often appear in music this extreme.