There’s a loading screen in Fallout 2 that has always bothered me. It’s a man dressed in tribal clothes–tattoos, face paint, a skull necklace–wearing a Brotherhood of Steel helmet. The game takes place years after a nuclear holocaust. When man is on the brink of extinction. In the first game you encounter the Brotherhood of Steel, after voyaging out in this dark apocalyptic world, they are a breath of fresh air. They seem to be making scientific progress pushing humanity forward, and yet you have this lingering notion that they’re not going to survive. And they don’t.
We live in a time of technological comfort. Where everything is a keyboard stroke of coming true. Yet there is an existential angst that comes with that. What happens if it’s all lost? What happens if we lose it all? Are we all just brute beasts; doped up to forget our base nature?
We can see this conflict play out on Cyber Shaman’s Shaman’s Dark Electro vol. IV. In fact the very first song hints at this dichotomy and the conflict it brings. I mean, with a name like Guerro des son (War of sounds), and even the name “Cyber Shaman” brings about images of two complete opposites. Yet it’s in this dichotomy, that of the organic and that of the synthetic, which we hear throughout the album.
First off, Cyber Shaman is an amazing electronic music producer. I’ve mentioned earlier that musicians tend to lose their identity the more gear they have. Mainly because it causes them to become a jack of all trades and master of none. As a result their music sounds incredibly basic and bland. But not Cyber Shaman. Like a classical music composer Cyber Shaman is able to craft these individual synth textures, each one feeling fresh and unique. It hearkens back to when electronic music was first being made. When musicians threw away the manual to the synthesizer they were using because it was more fun to experiment and create new sounds, rather than use blatantly fake sounding strings. Or better yet, let me show you a clip of David Bowie, because who doesn’t like David Bowie?
Yet I said this album had a dichotomous nature, and I’ve only addressed the electronic side of things. Now let’s get into the organic. Throughout the album there is this amazing percussion, the first track Guerro des son does a great job of preparing the listener for the musical journey that they are going to make. With the bizarro percussion that is put through effects, and yet sounds like a junkyard drum kit. Or better yet, what a drum kit in an apocalyptic nuclear wasteland would sound like. Yes it’s put through a lot of effects, yet you can but hear the hint of tribal-like drumming throughout the album. The later songs compound on this idea, but this track is your first glimpse of what is yet to come.
The next track Renouveau (renewal) captures another aspect of the album that is quite unique to Cyber Shaman. Mainly it’s his ability to warp, and mutate each song. There’s a general sense of fluidity in his sound. Rather than being binary (Chorus, verse, Chorus) each track starts off with a motif only to mutate into something entirely different. And when I say motif, I don’t mean a series of notes that repeat themselves. Rather the motifs in this album are the individual synths and instruments used on each track.
The beginning of Renouveau sounds like you’re going on an underwater exploration. Only for the drums to harshly interrupt that tranquility. Then the track dissolves into this rhythmic electronic kind of seance. With the synths giving out this electronic howls. You can still hear–faintly–the underwater meditative kind of track in the beginning. Yet this track devolves from tranquility to that of anxiety. As though you while exploring deep underwater you encountered a cybernetic Cthulhu.
Now I’ve touched a lot on the percussion of Cyber Shaman, and yes it deserves all the praise it gets. But as I can’t make an argument on something being organic when I only provide one example. So for the next example we go to Attendre si peu (“wait so little” which is what google translate told me, so I’ll stick to it). Immediately it starts of with this guitar strumming, that so clean and then the distorted synths begin to disrupt this period of brief tranquility. The synths no longer sound like synths, they sound like the guttural noises a cybernetic monster would make.
Then as the electronic synths begin to fade away–as though they are low on power–you hear it. This lone trumpet. Which is so soulful, and so perfect for this track.
As I mentioned before there is a certain fear that comes along with technological process. A fear of losing it all. Where our overuse of technology can unleash a nuclear Armageddon, and we revert back to our primal nature. Yet, this is quite an abstract concept for music. After all how can this apply for an electronic music album? Well we can look to Myspace for that. One of the greatest tragedies in all of music is that almost all of it, we’ll never get to hear. Because it wasn’t written down. If you look at the historical epics, and tales of great music being heard, we have no idea what it sounds like. What was Alexander the Great’s favorite song? We’ll never know. What about Jesus, Buddha, Caesar, Cleopatra? What kind of music did they enjoy? We won’t ever know.
Likewise modern musicians find themselves in a similar predicament. We upload our music to streaming sites, hoping that it would be permanent. That maybe one day, somebody will hear it and really enjoy it. Yet as the Myspace fiasco showed us, nothing is permanent.
And nothing captures that kind of existential angst better than Attendre si peu. Where amidst the electronic digital behemoth a lone trumpet plays it’s beautiful siren call. The fact the whole album has this electronic orchestral feel to it, where everything sounds almost foreboding, and tribalistic–and to hear that lone trumpet. It’s an album worth listening to in order. Rather than cherry picking songs, because Cyber Shaman understands how to create music narratives. How to create a sense of consistency, lull the listener into complacency, and then only to surprise them with something so radically different that it becomes incredibly rewarding to find out.
So now that we’ve covered the existential fear of the digital era, now we go on to a different kind of fear. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Now it could be the I’m a nerd, and I like attributing science fiction to album reviews. Yet I cannot but help to bring the comparison to science fiction. Since this album is so electronically layered, and the medium, as they say, is the message.
Immediately the track begins with this electronic rhythmic wailing. As though you are observing an electronic black mass, done by machines. After all spiritualism/religion is a purely human phenomena. I don’t think Koko the Gorilla is really concerned about Gorilla Jesus. Yet there’s some existential angst that comes with the realization that there’s something out there that could become spiritual. For example there’s a certain kind of existential dread about meeting extraterrestrials, but then there’s the existential dread that they know something that we don’t. And their knowledge is so far removed from our grips of comprehension, that we become infinitely small in the universe. Where all religions turn to dust, and everything we believed for thousands of years, disappears within the blink of an eye.
Yet what if a machine becomes spiritual? What does that say about us? Was all of our spirituality merely the firing of neurons between synapses? Nothing more than electrical impulse? And the machines we create can have the exact same experience?
This song in particular hits that existential dread right on the head. As the black mass wails continue, a synth arpeggios along, and we faintly hear a sample. But we can’t make out what exactly it’s saying. Yet it is saying something. To us, it’s mere gibberish. But to the machines in the seance it could be a religious mantra, a black magic spell–anything. For in the time post-human–where all the skyscrapers become archaeological sites–we’ll never know what we’ll be remembered for. And that is a scary thought.
So with that kind of existential dread lingering throughout the album, Cyber Shaman, like any great artist knows when to alleviate that. The next 3 tracks build in an upbeat tone, Ridicule, L’Ordre, and finally to Métal Sucré (Sweet Metal) which is orgasmic to the ears.
Whether it’s the pads in the beginning that swirl around your ears, which is an oh so picturesque of a beginning. It almost begins like a robotic ballroom dance. With the synthetic violin playing this tender, vulnerable melody. It’s the kind of vulnerability you get when falling in love with someone. Where you strip down all the bravado, false assumptions, and get emotionally naked. And then you get actually naked for some baby makin’. Which let’s admit if you’re able to make a tender melody on an electronic instrument, is an impressive feat. Then there’s the actual context of the rest of the album, bordering on this cybernetic nihilism. Hearing this is such a catharsis. But it doesn’t end there.
Then you’re transported to some distant foreign country. The kind that you’d see in Indiana Jones. You know, something like Nepal–where even the people of Nepal think the Nepal of that movie is incredibly foreign to them. This is all propelled by middle eastern instruments, a brilliant percussion that gives the track momentum, synths that bubble in the background, and these beautiful female vocals. It’s the allusion to these cultural motifs, that’s ingrained in our collective unconscious that provides this track with so much momentum. That sense of exploring the unknown, that sense of adventure, the sense of action–which provides this track with so much of a catharsis.
Which is fitting after listening to an album that is so heavily electronic and has such an intense existential kind of atmosphere. I mean, why do we invent new technology? We do it because deep in our hearts, we are all explorers, and we want to know the mysteries of the universe. And we will keep pressing forward, regardless of the hazards, because the rewards are so much greater.
So finally we end with La Toune de la fin. Which begins with this focused synth melody. And when I say focused I mean a warrior’s kind of focus. A steel willed determination, which stands in contrast to the electronic distorted growl in the distance. Yes it’s an incredibly sinister sound, and one that does not provide a resolution. After all does our constant need to push technological limits account for the human condition? No. Yet here these two elements battle out, with amazing drums in the background, and the occasional melancholy piano keys. This is not such a clear cut answer, and I don’t believe Cyber Shaman wants to be resolved on this album.
Overall this album is a must listen for any music fan, or sci-fi nerd. Personally it was inspiring to see the limits of electronic music being pushed into new uncharted territory. And seeing creativity like that on display only drives me to be a better artist. Because these synths, and collage of sounds are something for any music listener to stop, and take a listen to.
So with his ability to create any amazing an electronic orchestra, I give this album my full recc. Please check it out.