Black Devil were once more of a myth than a band. Their first LP, Disco Club, was originally released in 1978, in such a miniscule run that copies were almost impossible to find. Then, in 2004, Aphex Twin's label Rephlex announced that they'd bought a copy for pennies in a flea market, and were re-issuing the album. When it emerged, Disco Club sounded so fresh (and the story behind its rediscovery was so neat), that many suspected Aphex of adopting the Black Devil moniker for yet another of his pranks.
But this was the real deal, and Black Devil were revealed to be two Parisian library composers, Bernard Fevre and Jacky Giordano. The reissue spurred Favre to re-activate Black Devil as a solo project; Eight Oh Eight is his second album of new material in as many years (quite something, when you consider the 28-year gap between Black Devil's debut and sophomore LPs). While the synth-heavy, burbling take on disco that Black Devil pioneered is currently enjoying a new wave of popularity, Favre remains the fascinating misfit in the pack. Eight Oh Eight crystallises his spectral, deliciously uneasy sound. Over six tracks, Moroder-esque disco is refracted into macabre new shapes. On opener “With Honey Cream” Favre lays down a graceful sweep of bleeping synths, and then cloaks the track with falsetto vocals that sound like an opera being whipped around in a gale. Elsewhere, as on “Is Sorrow” and “Free for the Girls,” classic Italo vocal motifs — a “wooh, wooh” here, a “da-da-doo” there — blow through the tracks like ghosts, smeared with reverb, as ice-cold synths drip slime onto them. All the while, low-slung, hustling bass lines ensure that Eight Oh Eight's feet are always on the dancefloor. This might be radically skewed disco, but it holds on to disco's functionalism and vivacity.
Much of Black Devil's music is deceptively simple, built from just two or three interlocking synth lines and skeletal drum-machine beats. Yet, in their own murky way, these tunes are lush and vibrant, thick with invention and surprise. In these magisterial demonstrations of vintage equipment, Favre make his synths creak like old leather, spiral off into frazzled orbit, or burn up in showers of sparks. Devilish to the last, Fevre has stepped into the light of publicity, but his ghostly, skulking music continues to enthral from the shadows.