Elay Arson is the brainchild of Daniel David Larson. To those unfamiliar with Larson’s work, I would like to prepare you, because Elay Arson doesn’t take notes from any other artist in the darksynth/retrowave scene. These guys do their own thing. And with the imminent release of their second full-length in 2020 (holy shit two LPs in one year), “Franz,” they continue to push the limit of what I’ve come to expect as their norm. Unlike a lot of the stuff I’ve reviewed this year, Elay Arson is a project that I’ve been actively listening to since the release of their seminal “Rites of the Damned” album from way back in 2017. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Larson’s career grow with great interest.

I want to put “Franz” into perspective for listeners who aren’t familiar with Elay Arson’s previous work. First of all, looking at Elay Arson’s back catalog, “Franz” sticks out as strange. While there’s always been some level of what I’d like to call “epic cheese” to Elay Arson’s music, I can’t say that it’s ever waded into the waters of camp like “Franz” has. I’ve always perceived Elay Arson to be the sort of project, and I mean this loose terms, that embraced serious types of cyberpunk aesthetics and subject matter. “Franz” completely sheds that hard high-minded cyberpunk ideal for something much more playful. There’s a “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water” meets Die Antwoord level of absurdity with “Franz” that isn’t so much out of place for Elay Arson as it is bizarre.

Similar to their previous full-length “Dusk Incarnate,” “Franz” is a concept album. Only this time instead of focusing on the distant future, Larson wrote this album zeroing in on one of my favorite topics of conversation—cyberpunk, as we’re living it now. “Franz” is a darksynth/hip-hop/metal opera that uses Elon Musk’s ABSURDLY designed Cybertruck as the primary focal point of the album. “Franz” treats Elon Musk like some kind of Dr. Frankenstein character in an effort to resurrect the consciousness of designer Franz von Holzhausen into a Cybertruck. Modern problems require modern solutions. Anyway, some shit happens and Franz begins killing/terrorizing the citizens of Fremont. If this sounds like Child’s Play meets Christine, meets Portal, you aren’t that far off the mark. The whole idea behind “Franz” as an album sounds like something that Larson came up with as a joke whilst dabbing tangie with Devin Harrison on the third floor of a Colorado ski resort. The last thing he probably remembered was going comatose, (as you do) but when he came to, “Franz” had been fully fleshed out, recorded, and ready to go. At that point he had no choice but to commit to the project.

Production wise, I think that Elay Arson has really stretched their producin’ legs this go around. Where “Dusk Incarnate” still felt slightly faded in an indie kind of way, “Franz” is much more polished, and more listenable. There’s a good variety here, though if I had to pick one point of weakness for the album I would zero in on its percussion. While there are already a lot of collabs on “Franz” I think that this album would have benefitted by outsourcing some of the “beat making” responsibilities to a proper hip-hop producer, especially on “Billionaire, Boyfriend, CEO,” and “They Call Me Crazy.” The songs themselves are two of the most memorable tracks on “Franz” but I’d like to hear both of these with some howling, car shaking 808s to make them sizzle in that acid/rave hip-hop kind of way. For songs that leaned more into the metal side of things, like “Kill the Truck,” “Icon of Evil” and “Humanity is Fired,” I think making the drums and bass little more front and center in a melodeath Gothenburg style could’ve benefitted the overall feel of the album, by making those moments a little more organic sounding.

In terms of how “Franz” is structurally envisioned, I think that it really shows just how far Elay Arson is willing to explore in an effort to create interesting music. Larson doesn’t stay in one place for too long on this album, and because it’s so widely varied it became more memorable each time I gave it a spin. I knew that this album had its hooks in me when I started singing “Billionaire, Boyfriend, CEO” to myself in the shower a few days after my initial listen. Goddamn, I fucking love that song. It’s gothic and thug simultaneously! (Think Ghostemane). I was particularly drawn to the collabs Larson did with Hard Men Working Hard. Vocally, both songs (“Icon of Evil,” and “Humanity is Fired”) featuring those cool cats from down under were really memorable songs. Their style was perfectly in line with what Elay Arson was trying to get across here. “Kill the Truck,” harkens back to Elay Arson’s style on “Dusk Incarnate” a bit more as does the opening instrumental “Pointy Steel Overture.” Synth-maiden Czarina makes a memorable appearance on “No One is Getting Out Alive,” with an almost operatic performance Her voice has a slight Amy Lee vibe to it. My favorite track from the album was Becca Star’s Yolandi/Fergi-esque collab on “They Say I’m Crazy.” I’m not averse to a full album of this type of thing…maybe next time we’ll get some more. I can only hope.

Daniel David Larson and Devin Harrison (Elay Arson)

The last thing I want to talk about with regards to “Franz” is how genius it is to sing about something so prevalent in popular culture in the moment. For all intents and purposes, Elay Arson is still underground, but I feel like in a world where people go viral all the time, “Franz” has potential to make things happen. All it’s going to take is Joe Rogan, Franz von Holzhausen, or Elon Musk himself to catch wind that there’s an album like this out there and Larson could be trending overnight. I think from a marketing stand-point it’s a crazy idea that has some hairy ass fucking legs.

So yeah, “Franz” wades heavily into batshit crazy side of the pool—but you know what? “Franz” feels like legit entertainment. And it’s all the better for it. That said, the first time that I listened to “Franz” I fucking HATED it. It’s not wildly different from Elay Arson’s previous output, but it was different enough to make me feel uncomfortable with it until I listened to it several times. That said, I love “Franz” now that I’ve spent a good two weeks with it in an honest effort to understand what it’s doing. “Franz” is original, fresh, and injects the darksynth genre with precisely what it needs in order to overcome the current stagnation occurring in the scene. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had more Carpenter Brut style distorted resampled saws than my body has room for. It was great while it lasted but that style has been done to fucking death. Thankfully, Larson has spared us from anymore of that, and still stands, at least to me, as a pillar of a scene crumbling underneath the weight of its popularity amongst edge-lord high-end production worshipping whores looking to piss all over actual artistic expression that doesn’t conform to their idea of what makes a good music. Where those type of people will forever remain stains on the scene for being negative because they crave credibility, Elay Arson will be over here making true art by pushing the limits of the genre by transcending “the standard.”

If “Dusk Incarnate” is a fully realized ultimate version of the style Elay Arson cultivated on “Rites of the Damned,” then “Franz” has given Elay Arson the realization that they aren’t beholden to that style or any other genre or style of music. “Franz” is the start of something truly wonderful. I am super excited to see where Elay Arson takes us next.

Album Highlights: “They Call Me Crazy (feat. Becca Starr),” “Billionaire, Boyfriend, CEO,” “Icon of Evil (feat. Hard Men Working Hard),” “No One is Getting Out Alive (feat. C Z A R I N A),” and “Kill the Truck (feat. Hard Men Working Hard).”

Recommended for: Tesla Fans, metal heads, and sentient Cybertrucks.

Album Color Profile: SHINY AND CHROME

You can find all things Elay Arson at https://elayarson.bandcamp.com/

Cyberthing! is a Darksynth project from–I’m not entirely sure where. Their VK page says Vancouver, but their Bandcamp page says California. Let’s put it this way, they are probably from somewhere here on Earth. I hope. *gulp* Cyberthing! (aside from one rogue photo on Twitter) is the type of project that takes a page out of the Deathspell Omega handbook by revealing very little about the actual producer behind the scenes. This is the type of “created persona” music that’s become all the rage among the kids these days. To be honest, I’m rather ambivalent to the whole concept. Cyberthing! is also one of those projects that has released five full-length albums and one EP at breakneck speeds over the course of two years. Their latest is entitled “KIRA.” It was released August 12th, 2020.

The cover artwork for “KIRA” is by Nero Exgalatine. It features a wonderful look that is reminiscent of early 2000s anime. There’s just something really cool about slick looking digital art that feels faded and worn at the same time. Nero really excels at this sort of thing. Her art gives off a nice retro vibe akin to looking at a single frame from an older anime on VHS. It really makes me miss Animerica magazine.

When it comes to what Cyberthing! has done with “KIRA” I can happily report that, at least to me, it is aesthetically near perfect. Nero’s anime style art coupled with slick, Cyberthing!’s grainy Darksynth is precisely the type of thing that’s right up my alley. “KIRA” is entirely instrumental, sans a few sample drops is a concept album. The liner notes on Cyberthing!’s page tells the tale of Kira Atari, “the second best killer” in the entire world. The album takes us on her journey to eliminate her rival “Killer Zero” in a bare knuckle cinematic feast for the ears.

“KIRA’s” intro track reminds me of Kenji Kawai’s “Making of a Cyborg” from 1995’s “Ghost in the Shell,” complete with that chorusey Bulgarian percussive vibe that made Kawai’s song so wonderful. The rest of the album, with the exception of “Into the Arena,” is your typical Darksynth affair. This isn’t a bad thing. While there is nothing particularly unexpected or surprising about “KIRA,” it’s strengths lie in maintaining a specific cinematic feel throughout the album that just works.

I found myself humming “First Strike” a lot this week. It’s a total earworm that shows off a little bit of what to expect from “KIRA’s” overall sound. This is the type of neon-flavored Darksynth that boasts a Roland Juno 60 and Minimoog vibe. “Slayer Incorporated” is my favorite track off of “KIRA.” It does a lot right, by combining elements from Darksynth with an early 2000s aggrotech sensibility. This song’s slow crawl brings on that perfect danger-energy that makes my toes curl with glee. “Welcome to the Fightclub” is another track that really caught my attention. Primarily for the rolling squishy bass patch that Cyberthing! uses in an all out barrage of audio violence. “Into the Arena” reminds me of the type of music you’d hear in an old 80s movie featuring a knife fight. It’s not very Darksynth per se but it does have the same spirit of “KIRA’s” opening track which fits in well with the aesthetic that Cyberthing! is pulling off here. Other tracks of note include “Electric,” “Target Hunter,” and “Megaweb Storm,” which all make liberal use of that fancy distorted French Darksynth bass we’ve all grown to love and adore since it first reared it’s ugly head onto the scene via Carpenter Brut & Friends.

Visually, “KIRA” makes me think of a corrupt inner city police precincts, flashing lights, sexy android girls, and flying cars cruising amidst the back drop of some kind of futuristic neon city. It doesn’t do anything daring when it comes to sound design or song structure, but I can’t say that that bothers me. I love Darksynth, and “KIRA” represents a solid example of how to do it right.

Make no mistake, if you’re looking for an album chock-full with Cyberpunk goodness, “KIRA” is your girl.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Darksynth, Cyberpunk, and sexy killer androids.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Slayer Incorporated,” “Welcome to the Fightclub,” “Target Hunter.”

Album Color Profile: #D81B60

You can find all things Cyberthing! at https://cyberthing.bandcamp.com/

CONNÖR is something of a mystery to me. Apparently they’ve been around in the Synthwave/Darksynth for awhile now. The funny thing is that I can’t seem to find any of their releases before their third album from 2019, entitled “Part III: Living in a Movie.” The mind behind CONNÖR is a producer who goes by the pseudonym “EFX.” Their social media presence is also rather light. EFX resides somewhere in the “deepest Bavarian forest” which, to me, means somewhere in south or southeast Germany. CONNÖR’s latest album, “Out of Traumaville” was released on August 21st, 2020,

“Out of Traumaville” is a fascinating album. Just looking at the liner notes, it’s pretty clear that it had a good financial backing, and that several people were involved in it’s creation. While EFX themself wrote and produced the songs found here, it would seem that White Sea Studio’s Wytse Gerichhausen had a lot to do with the post-production (both mixing and mastering) of this album. Wytse is most well-known, at least to me, for his audio “snake oil” videos on Youtube. Another notable contributor to this album was saxophonist Hugo Lee.

On the cover is artwork by Vladyslav Tsarenko, which features an image that looks like something you might find at one of those spray-on t-shirt shops that were the rage in the late 1990s. It has a girl getting pulled down into a manhole by various creepy crawlies. I think that it’s good artwork, but I don’t think it matches the spirit of the album. I would’ve preferred something a little less cartoony, especially considering the high-quality content found within “Out of Traumaville.”

There are a lot of interesting things going on composition-wise on this album. As I was listening to this album I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Who exactly is this person who created this?” It’s fairly clear that the work EFX has done with CONNÖR isn’t their first rodeo when it comes to writing music. Structure-wise there’s a lot to love on “Out of Traumaville.” While most songs follow a clear cookie-cutter pattern common to both Synthwave and Darksynth, there are a few incredible moments here. The album’s opener, “83. A.T.E.” does a lot in under six minutes. If I had to compare it to something, picture Carpenter Brut’s “Escape from Midwich Valley” with vocals. Similar to “Midwich” there is a slow build up on “83. A.T.E.” leading up to a surprising bass drop (at 4:00) in the last third of the song. Lyrically, this song is absolutely wonderful. I found myself singing it to myself for a few days. There’s just something so satisfying about saying the word combination “Woke up in fear.” “Total Darkness” is another certifiable ear worm that has incredible lyrics, and an incredible overall sound. Like–real talk, this song is just so smooth, and so pleasing to the ear. I honestly had a hard time keeping it together the first time I heard it. “The Fire in Me” which features a memorable sax performance by Hugo Lee and stunning vocals by Winona Drive. This is probably my favorite track on the album. If you aren’t sure about checking this album out, have a listen to “The Fire in Me.” It doesn’t disappoint.

In terms of aesthetic, I think that the first five songs on “Out of Traumaville” and the title track itself are all A-rank, maybe (at times) even S-rank level Darksynth. All of the other songs on the album really aren’t on the same level though from a compositional point of view. “Born to Shine” feels a little too preachy to me, and sounds less like proper Darksynth and more like something you might hear from a mainstream pop group like Imagine Dragons. Ick! Don’t get me wrong, from a technical standpoint I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s definitely not the type of song I would willingly subject myself to.

If I were an executive producer for this album I would’ve cut “Born to Shine,” the two “Holy Wood” tracks, and probably “Tomorrow.” I would’ve kept “My First Bossfight” though, primarily because it fits in with the context of the first five tracks of the album. If this album would’ve only included those seven tracks I think that this could’ve been a classic Darksynth release. The bloat filled in by the tracks that probably should’ve been cut mess with the overall vibe of this release. I’m also little disappointed that CONNÖR didn’t include lyrics on Bandcamp, because while I can easily understand what each vocalist is saying, I like reading lyrics for context, especially when it comes to a concept album like this one.

In conclusion, CONNÖR released some real gold here with the first five tracks on this album and the title track “Out of Traumaville.” Please check those songs out ASAP if you get joy-joy feelings from well-crafted Darksynth.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Carpenter Brut and Perturbator.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “83. A.T.E.”, “Total Darkness,” “The Fire in Me” (these three songs are FUCKING INCROYABLE–TREMENDOUS WORK).

Album Color Profile: #FF6699

You can find all things CONNÖR at https://connoer.bandcamp.com/

Leifendeth is the industrial project of Toronto producer Dan McDonald. Since 2009 he’s been regularly releasing music under the Leifendeth banner. He has had roughly fifteen releases during this time. His latest, “Narrow Escapism” is a mini-ep featuring five remixes from artists including Braphonyte 7, Real Wilkinson, and Armageddon Speaking.

On the cover of “Narrow Escapism” is a back alley somewhere (maybe in Toronto), sprayed with graffiti. While I personally don’t particularly like the aesthetic of the photograph, I do think that it plays well into the idea of this EP, being that the photo feels claustrophobic.

Musically, I really, really like the title track of this EP. It reminds me “Mechanical Renaissance”-era Psyborg Corp, Xperiment, and C-Lekktor. It’s quite dancey, (Batty von Bats eat your heart out) and has in no way any ties to the current “retro” style that’s in vogue right now. This is the kind of aggrotech infused, industrial music that died a quiet death way back in 2012 with the advent of dubstep. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure how or why this type of music went out of style, maybe it has something to do with the proliferation of the “Goth Bridge Rave.” Regardless, “Narrow Escapism” is a concise track that is well-written, well-produced, and quite familiar to my aging old soul. McDonald makes creative, well-placed use of EQ, reverb, and reverse cymbals (my favorite) to help create this memorable track.

I tend to enjoy EPs like this as they help to expose me to new artists I haven’t heard of before via remixes. The most memorable of these remixes is “Pandemic” by Braphonyte 7. There’s just the right amount of aggression here that just makes me giddy with evil glee. Braphonyte 7’s remix is reminiscent of 2000s-era :Wumpscut:. Armageddon Speaking’s remix of “Not Again” is downright weird, a little ambient, and definitely old school. “Parasomniac (ghost panic mix)” has a good aggrotech styling to it, but the vocals come off as a little dry for my tastes. That’s not to say that they don’t fit, they do, I just think they should’ve been a little more wet, or slightly more in the background of the track. Of the two Real Wilkinson remixes of “Narrow Escapism” I much prefer the “Narrated Breakout” remix as it comes off as a tasteful reprise of the original track. The “Extended ‘Press the ESC button” remix is a lot more experimental, diverting a lot of attention from the original theme by focusing on various creative cuts and button presses.

Overall, I think that this is a pretty good EP. If there had been two other new tracks by Leifendeth here in the same polished style as “Narrow Escapism” in addition to all the extras we get here I think it could’ve been better. In general, if I had to pick one aspect of how Leifendeth could improve, it would be in the visual aesthetic of the project. Looking back at McDonald’s body of work I feel that the music is too amazing for the visual style that was settled upon for Leifendeth. “Narrow Escapism” also suffers from this lack of visual stimulus as well. If there was a little more flashiness to the art design, I think it would push this project over the top as something a little more noticeable, a lot more threatening, and more befitting of the wonderful music found within.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of 2000s aggrotech, late 2000s industrial dance.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Narrow Escapism” (this is near perfect) and “Pandemic (Braphonyte 7 remix)”

Album Color Profile: #BDC3C7

You can find all things Leifendeth at https://leifendeth.bandcamp.com/

Kushna is a newer retrowave producer from India. 2020 has certainly been his year as he’s produced a slew of really catchy singles. In addition to this, he’s also released a full-length entitled “Retrodise.” It came out on June 2nd, 2020.

I’m going to come out and say that this is definitely an album that you shouldn’t judge by it’s cover. To me, the cover embraces some really common Synthwave tropes. We’ve all seen this type of thing frequently in the last few years, and for all intents and purposes I think that “Retrodise” would’ve benefited greatly from a different type of visual to accompany the music here.

Despite my personal issues with the cover artwork, I think that “Retrodise” is a wonderful album. I tend to think that it musically lies somewhere between proper darksynth and more soundtrack based Synthwave. There are a lot of really great ideas here that really tap into the exact type of moody epic vibe that brought me to love Synthwave as an artistic medium in the first place. The production value on “Retrodise” is really clear due to it being properly EQed and made tight with strategic conscious use of light (and sometimes sidechained) compression. I suspect that Kushna spent some time producing music in other genres as “Retrodise” has a modern EDM vibe. If I’m wrong about this, then he has a lot of natural talent for this type of thing. Regardless, “Retrodise” reminds me of a cross between 16-bit VGMs from the 1990s, Jan Hammer’s work on Miami Vice, with a slight raga flavor that makes it stand out amongst the hundreds of hours of Synthwave that I’ve subjected myself to so far this year.

I think that “Retrodise” opens up strong with the arpeggio leaden “Deep Love.” This song is spacey, futuristic, and catchy. It’s also is very neutral in terms of energy. It’s not particularly light or dark sounding, but it definitely has aspects from both sides of the spectrum. “Dream” further highlights Kushna’s talent for constructing great sounding arpeggios. Again, like “Deep Love,” “Dream” reaches Daft Punk levels of spacey with a pseudo-“TRON Legacy” vibe crossed with mid-nineties CD-ROM based VGMs. “Endless” was my favorite cut from “Retrodise.” The visuals that my brain created whilst listening to this song were akin to something you might see out of a moody Neo-noir film complete with streetlights sporadically shining across the face of a lonely night driver just looking to make something of his/her life. The acoustics of the woodwind pipe sound on “Endless” is absolutely beautiful and really unconventional.

Overall, “Retrodise” is a highly enjoyable listen. This release completely blindsided me, and it’s a goddamn shame that more people haven’t checked it out. If you have an affinity for well-crafted and thoughtful Synthwave with a digestable and slightly different vibe, please check out Kushna’s work. It’s one of my favorite albums this year.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone that loves going for a long night drive along the coast on a hot Summer night.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Endless,” “Deep Love,” “Dream,” and “Beautiful.”

Album Color Profile: #FF1744

You can find all things Kushna at https://kushnamusic.bandcamp.com/

Glitch Black (a play on words to “Pitch Black”) is a prolific darksynth/synthwave producer who hails from Seattle, Washington. He’s most notably known for visual live performances, his Tron-inspired outfit, and all-around great sounding future aesthetics. Glitch Black is the type of producer who makes even the most timid among us want to hit the dance floor in a cyberpunk catharsis of joy. His latest album is entitled “Mechanical Perfection.” It was released on July 9th, 2020.

On the cover of “Mechanical Perfection” is a very familiar image of Glitch Black’s cybernetic egregore. Keeping in line with all of his previous major album releases, the artwork features an intense black and grey color scheme that is wildly accentuated with neon red. I feel that this image fits in well with the sci-fi vibe of the album.

Even though all of the songs here are all cut from the same cloth there’s quite a bit of variation throughout this album. The first half pulls a lot of influence from early 2000s aggrotech and late 2000s European hardstyle. “Binary Overlord” is a great example of this—although this artistic choice isn’t entirely limited to that song. There is also a slight gothic EDM flavor to “Mechanical Perfection.” This is largely aided by the album’s constant grating low end, non-traditional arpeggios (at least for darksynth), and popping upbeat percussion. “Mechanical Perfection” is slightly experimental for Glitch Black as he actively explores challenging tempo changes, without over-saturating the music with too much repetition. For example, in “Shock Troopers” he ends the song with a completely new section that doesn’t repeat. It sort of reminds me of what Slayer pulled on “God Hates Us All” by adding odd little riffs to the end of songs. The primary difference here is that Glitch Black does it with a sleek and concise style.

Overall, “Mechanical Perfection” is an enjoyable listen. All of the songs here are cold on the outside, kind of like a metal endoskeleton, but once you start understanding the vibe of the album there’s a lot of life here. “Shock Troopers” is definitely my favorite track off of the album. It’s energetic, slightly evil sounding, and all around really goddamn cyberpunk. I kept getting these visuals of some kind of paramilitary squad like in “The Raid: Redemption” kicking doors down in the name of some power hungry corporate magnate. Other highlights include the sleeper hit “Binary Overlord,” the glitchy metal infused “Onslaught,” and the slower tempoed “Dark Future.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Darksynth warriors looking for something new from a familiar darksynth personality. I think people who are into Cybergoth might actually like this too. I’m not ashamed to say that I danced to “Binary Overlord” several times by myself in my living room.

Stand-out tracks: “Shock Troopers,” “Dark Future,” “Onsalught,” “Grit,” “Binary Overlord,” (HUMANZ!)

Album Color Profile: #B71C1C

You can find all things Glitch Black at https://glitchblack.bandcamp.com/

Wraithwalker is a darksynth producer from Atlanta, Georgia. He’s been around in the scene since 2018, and has produced several LPs/EPs. He recently has released two mini-albums within the last month, “Preludium,” and “Visions.” I will be reviewing the latter.

The cover artwork for “Visions” reminds me of the variant cover for Hecate Enthroned‘s “Upon Promethean Shores (Unscriptured Waters).” The color scheme is much the same prominently featuring one of my favorite colors—a harsh, almost neon violet. The image itself reminds me of Carpathian Forest‘s “Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods.” For this type of music I think that Wraithwalker’s logo leans a little too heavily on a black metal sort of aesthetic, but I think that’s what he’s going for. It is a unique stylistic decision to couple this type of primeval vibe with music that normally would be associated with futuristic themes.

“Visions” sounds extremely European despite the fact that Wraithwalker resides in Atlanta. There is this odd little energy about this release that I can’t quite put my finger on. In one sense, it’s sounds like early eighties Disco Italia, but it also doesn’t. I think that there’s a TON of postpunk/coldwave/minimal synth influence going on here. As to whether or not that’s Wraithwalker’s conscious decision, I’m not so sure. There are also shades of early 90s à la Love is Colder Than Death from their “Teignmouth” period mixed with early 2000s gothic EDM—think Apoptygma Berzerk. For postmodern darksynth, it certainly feels eclectic, mysterious, bleak, and somewhat inaccessible. Of course, I mean that in the very best way possible.

“Blood Moon” stands out to me because it is the most upbeat track on “Visions.” I love the muddy bass pulse that the song is rooted in. Despite how energetic the percussion is here, there’s a lot of dark ambiance to this track. It really makes me feel like I’ve been left alone in a cold wilderness without any hope of survival. For such a red sounding song, it certainly takes on the foggy vibe of something that sounds dark and purple. “Scythia” and “Raven” are the most postpunk songs of the bunch. Visually, “Scythia” is greatly enhanced by the telephone-EQ put onto the sparse, but seemingly distant vocals here. To be honest, this track gives me the willies. It’s fucking nasty in a postwar prison labor camp sort of way. This is not for the faint of heart. My favorite track on the album is “Resurrection.” It has a compelling lead synth that makes me want to put some black lipstick on and hit the dance floor. This is contrasted by a lighthearted, albeit synthwavy breakdown/bridge at around 2:50 that comes completely out of nowhere. I love when producers do this sort of thing. “Plague” leans a little too heavily on the Blade Runner end theme vibe for my tastes by transposing the root of the song’s driving arpeggio down from C to an F minor scale. I do like it, but a lot of darksynth producers love going into that Vangelis space. The Spotify release of “Visions” includes a really cool remix of the opening track “Raven” while the Bandcamp release includes a cover of The Cure’s “A Forest.” I much preferred the “Raven” remix primarily because “A Forest” has been covered to DEATH. That said, both bonus tracks are great, and even though I’m not a fan of “A Forest” I think that a lot of people who come across this release will enjoy the hell out of it.

Overall, I fucking like this mini-album. “Visions” does a lot right in such a short time. It’s not overly produced, which works to its advantage as it’s a very visual EP. And while it certainly does have a darksynth vibe to it, I think it’s more darksynth adjacent. It channels a lot of energy that greatly differs in approach from other artists in the scene. If you’re in the market for something different and are in the mood for a little nastiness, check “Visions” out.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Darksynth and Horrorsynth adherents who want to step further into the dark wilderness of the human soul.

Stand-out tracks: “Raven,” “Scythia,” “Blood Moon,” and “Resurrection.”

Album Color Profile: #9C27B0

You can find all things Wraithwalker at https://wraithwalker.bandcamp.com/

Shredder 1984 is the project of French darksynth producer Steven Schriver. He also plays in two metal bands, Can of Worms (thrash/death) and Silent Opera (progressive death metal).

“Prophet of Doom” is a “special quarantine album” Shredder 1984’s which features six tracks of metallic darksynth clocking in at a runtime of around thirty minutes. The cover artwork was created by a really talented tattoo artist from Bayonne, France named La Belette Bleue. The color scheme of the artwork is really eye-popping which successfully combines a glowy fuchsia with an overwhelming amount of neon seafoam green. In the center of the painting is featured a very sexy looking prophet/oracle of doom who appears to be, at least to me, a demonic form of Lady Justice herself. It seems she’s had enough of humanity’s shit, so she’s taken her blindfold off to deliver some brutal justice to the world. Behind her are a bunch of evil looking critters and a city that looks like it’s been laid to waste. I quite like the artwork, as it reminds me of Dimmu Borgir’s “Godless Savage Garden.”

Musically, “Prophet of Doom,” is quite epic sounding, in a melodramatic sort of way. And while I would classify this album as being under the darksynth genre umbrella I think that it’s also very different too. I say this because Shredder 1984 definitely has a sound that’s unique to him. Out of the hundreds of hours of darksynth I’ve subjected myself to over the last ten years or so I can’t say I’ve heard anything remotely like Shredder 1984. His signature sound is encapsulated underneath a wall of gritty sounding guitars combined with synthetic soft-clipped bass sounds. From a technical stand point, I would be curious to see how exactly he EQed the palm-muted wall of guitars to sit with the heavy bass in this recording. I reckon that there’s a decent amount of automation going on that helps this process, but I can’t really say for sure. If I had to guess, I think that a lot of the guitars are actually synthetic à la reFx guitar expansions but I’d like to think I am wrong. Regardless, I’m honestly kind of impressed with how well these two elements co-exist together since I feel that nothing substantial has been lost in the mix. That said, I do think that the lead guitars suffer a little bit in the mix from how upfront the low end can be at times.

There is a rather liberal use of orchestral sounding choirs, organs, and trailing arpeggios that line the high end and and mids for “Prophet of Doom.” One of the best moments that showcases this aspect of Shredder 1984 comes in the form of a musical reprise of “Sharpen that Guillotine” with “Oracle Interlude.” If I had to pick a song off the album deserving of a music video treatment it would probably be “Justice Outbreak.” It stands out to me as the most single sounding of the bunch and shows off everything that “Prophet of Doom” is doing in one song.

Overall, I think that “Prophet of Doom” is worthy of a listen. To me, it stands out as one of the cooler releases of 2020. So if you happen to like your darksynth sounding post-apocalyptic with a slight tinge of horror there might be something here for you.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Darksynth fans looking for something a little more metallic.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Prophet of Doom,” (my favorite track from the album), “Sharpen that Guillotine,” “Justice Outbreak.”

Album Color Profile: #512E5F

You can find all things Shredder 1984 at https://shredder1984.bandcamp.com/

LV-426 is the darksynth project of producer Justin Peeler. Peeler hails from Brantford, Ontario and has been writing music for LV-426 for a couple of years now. He recently released his first full-length entitled “Shadow Runner” on June 19th, 2020.

The cover art work is a stylized rendition of a pre-covid photograph of a back street in Shinjuku. I won’t drop the address of this location—but it wasn’t too difficult to find considering Osteria Oliera is there in plain view. The photo is quite nice, and captures a typical evening on a somewhat busy street. If Chiba City from Neuromancer was an actual place, it might look something like this.

“Shadow Runner” isn’t what I would describe as normal “to-be-expected” darksynth. There is nothing earbustingly loud or shiny about this release. “Shadow Runner” is completely devoid of soft-clipped basses, tropey overused audio drops, or popping drums. And honestly speaking, the mere fact that “Shadow Runner” does none of this is what makes it charming. “Shadow Runner” may lack saturation or walls of deafening sound, but it makes up for it (in spades) with HIGHLY original and unconventional song arrangements. “Shadow Runner” has the type of underground grit that I just don’t hear all that often these days. Part of this might be experiential, but don’t hold that against LV-426. There’s goodness to be had here.

Every song on “Shadow Runner” is both worthy and wonderful. That said, there are a couple of songs that really stuck out to me. The first of these being “Tokyo Cyber Squad.” How can I describe this? Think of a darker heavy metal band like Hypocrisy and their song “Inseminated Adoption.” Now replace the guitars in that song with a saw bass that roughly occupies the same space as a guitar post-EQ. It’s sort of like that. This isn’t a song meant for dancing. It’s meant for banging one’s head. The next track that stood out to me was “Fail Safe.” This a very WEIRD track—rhythmically. But not so weird that it’s impossible to appreciate. Like “Tokyo Cyber Squad,” this is meant to make you bang your head. I don’t think “Fail Safe” will appeal to everyone. In fact, I think that most darksynth listeners will be put off by it due to how disjointed it feels. To those brave souls who are willing to appreciate it, there’s something quite special here. It’s my favorite cut off of the entire album. Finally, “System Collapse” sort of combines the sensibilities of both aforementioned songs. This is a dangerous in an edgy YM2612 sort of way. It reminds me of early 1990s BGM battle music, you know, the type of earworm you might hear in an action platformer on the Megadrive.

In general, what “Shadow Runner” does really well is to capture a cyberpunk atmosphere without trying to sound like Perturbator or the Blade Runner soundtrack. What we’re left with is a back alley interpretation of one individual’s unique vision of what cyberpunk looks like to them. Now whether or not this is by design, I’m not entirely sure. What I tend to think, at least in my head cannon for this album, is that Peeler made creative choices with “Shadow Runner” that were entirely his own. The result? An album that offers up rich originality via unusual sound choices, the occasional weird song structure, and a dry dynamism that gives no fucks about what everybody else is doing.

This is a great release, with a lot of heart, and a distinctive creative edge that shines because it’s just doing its own thing.

RECOMMENDED FOR: The adventurous darksynth/cyberpunk listener looking for something different.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Fail Safe,” “Tokyo Cyber Squad,” “Regroup,” “System Collapse” (this song sounds like a Megadrive boss theme).

Album Color Profile: #512E5F

You can find all things LV-426 at https://lv-4261.bandcamp.com/

In the post-covid postmodern cyberpunk pastiche that is 2020 just about everybody and their mother has taken to the arts in a last ditch effort to make their hopes and dreams come true. The result of this has been really mixed. On one end of the spectrum there’s high-quality “didn’t bother to write my own music” garbage that low skill non-producers have thrown money at to make their egos feel better. There’s an entire industry that orbits around separating these folks from their hard earned cash. In the middle, you have low quality artistic music that actually has real substance. There’s also the low quality, low skilled producers that aren’t “in it to win it” rather they are only in it for fun—to which I say, hell yeah, keep having fun. And finally you have really well produced music that’s artistic AF. This is very rare mythical unicorn that often gets buried under high quality, low skill garbage. This is sadly just the way things are. But hey, when I discover music like this, I am motivated to share it. Enter London’s very own dark synth producer who goes by the moniker “The Unseen.” Since June of 2018 they have been producing delectable and dark music just perfect for a night drive. Their latest “EP”—it’s not an “EP,” this is a fucking album, is entitled “To Where We Roam.” It released on June 19th, 2020 via Bandcamp.

The cover art for “To Where We Roam” is extremely unorthodox for this type of music. I say this mainly due to it’s color scheme. Just looking at this album, the first thought that comes into my head is that this is going to be something light-hearted and smooth. I mean look at those pastels! Towards the bottom of the image is a figure walking away. They are draped in a scarlet looking robe/blanket/shroud that appears to be swaying slowly in the wind. This is the part of this artwork that is slightly unsettling to look at. There’s mystery there. Right out in the open. Right out in the light. Needless to say, when I pressed play on this album for the first time it wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

“To Where We Roam” is a release that has gone widely unnoticed—which I think is downright criminal. In terms of what I’ve already listened to in 2020, this album is top ‘o the heap. This is mostly instrumental, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s just another fancy darksynth release. The Unseen did a wonderful job producing this one. From beginning to end, I was treated to the perfect mix of early 1980s Vangelis/Tangerine Dream mixed with what sounds like to me Jack Wall’s work on Mass Effect 2, only instead of getting one “Suicide Mission” track, the entire album sounds like that. I think that top loading “To Where We Roam” with “Paris, Aimes-tu Les Damnés?” was a solid artistic decision, because while it has threads of what typically is expected out of a darksynth track, it vaguely reminded me of the first time I heard Xasthur’s “Moon Shrouded in Misery, part I.” I think that adding this type of sound to darksynth is the proper progression for the genre, not only because it adds a dreamy death-like element to the tone of the music, but because I think it feels nostalgic, albeit not in an eighties sort of way. “Veiled Silhouettes on the Dunes of Dubai” reminds me a lot of Keiichi Okabe’s compositions on both the original “Nier” and also “Nier Automata.” It’s dusty, atmospheric, oppressive and breathy. It stands out as one of the album’s most visual songs, and although it’s a little tropey I like it. “Stargazing From a Train in the Austrian Alps” sounds eerily familiar to the end theme from “Blade Runner.” There are two reasons for this. One, it’s in F minor just like Blade Runner’s end theme. “Stargazing…” is also similar sounding because of the steady arpeggio that continues for most of the song in tandem with lush pads going up and down the scale. The primary difference here is that the starting root note of the arpeggio isn’t C like in Blade Runner’s end theme. In general, I look at this like a nod to Vangelis, and what a nod it is. It’s a great tune. The best track on the album goes to the final track “World, Interrupted.” This also sounds similar to Vangelis, complete with it’s choir sweeps and dynamic percussion clashing with synthesized leads. The greatest moment of the album comes roughly two minutes into “World, Interrupted” with a drastic change in tempo which shifts the song’s focus from a more brooding energy level to something dark and upbeat. This is precisely the type of thing I love in darksynth that isn’t done nearly enough. It takes the overall vibe of the track from a, “yeah we’re not doing so well here,” to “we are absolutely fucked.” This is definitely one of the best tracks I’ve heard all year.

Overall, “To Where We Roam” is an album that was a huge surprise to me. It’s not only just dark, it’s oppressively dark. There isn’t any fun going on with this album. It sounds like the end of the world. And that’s the way I fucking like it.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who like their darksynth sounding like a razorblade sweeping back and forth in their mouths.

Stand-Out Tracks: “World, Interrupted,” (GREAT TRACK), “Paris, Aimes-tu Les Damnés?,” “Veiled Silhouettes on the Dunes of Dubai,” “Stargazing From a Train in the Austrian Alps” (Blade Runner vibes!)

Album Color Profile: #FF8A80

You can find all things The Unseen at https://theunseen.bandcamp.com/