Cipher
Children of God's Fire
2005
B+



cipher's Children of God's Fire took two years to make, and it shows. Listening to this album is like simultaneously taking a tough college course and getting run over by a truck. Cipher has roots in hardcore punk, but like Converge, its sound is so unique and complex that the term "hardcore" is but a starting point. Nothing on this album comes easily, and it's all the stronger for it.

If classic tough-guy hardcore is a bodybuilder, Cipher is hardcore gone Robotech, with 21st century armor and weaponry. The de rigueur chugging riffs and half-time breakdowns of hardcore are present, but are swathed in sheets of dissonance, recalling early Godflesh. Just when grooves begin to sink in, odd meters and twists and turns take songs to unexpected places; there's not much repetition here. The Dillinger Escape Plan comes to mind, but Cipher is more accessible, utilizing emo-esque clean guitars and the occasional piano or keyboard pad.

Each song here is a journey, but "Venom" stands out in being both pretty and crushing, with a huge, droning chant in the neck-snapping closing breakdown. "Enduring Freedom (Part 1)" has jaw-dropping guitars worthy of jazz fusion, while "Verse vs. The Virus" features spiraling dissonance, tribal percussion, and even a verse from MF Doom. The collaboration is strange but works, partly because Cipher singer Moe Mitchell's own vocals are hip-hop-influenced. His gruff, clipped delivery takes getting used to; but like everything else on this album, it makes sense after repeated listens.

As in much of hardcore, the lyrics are as important as the music here. The lyrics are intensely political, dealing with topics such as liberal privilege, oppression under organized religion, and the evils of medicine for profit. However, there are no simplistic sing-alongs here. Mitchell depicts issues in poetic, impressionistic images:
Open your eyes, still heavy and inflamed by late night television and tears
Tears you attribute to lack of sleep, while ignoring your soul sick weariness
Stretch out your hands, still crippled and burnt from keyboards and cigarettes
Cigarettes filled with tobacco that out of mere historical curiosity
You wonder how would have burned, if harvested by slave
How sweet cane, cut by a nubile wench would have tasted
How soft to the touch cotton, picked by a strong buck, would have felt
These are some of the more direct lyrics, and this approach can be inaccessible (if Toni Morrison were a hardcore punk, she might write lyrics like these). The liner notes come with explanations to the lyrics; ironically, even these explanations are often abstract. But it is refreshing, especially in a genre with such a strong sense of "scene," to find art that doesn't reduce messages to bumper sticker slogans. And, thankfully, Cipher doesn't put the cart before the horse; the music more than stands on its own. If the kids in the moshpit happen to understand what the singer is yelling about, then so much the better.


Reviewed by: Cosmo Lee
Reviewed on: 2005-07-08
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