Dark Smoke Signal is the synthwave project of UK producer Alex Pope. “The Antipope Resurrection” is his latest LP and was released March 20th 2020.

The cover art by Paul Harding is one part Blade Runner, one part Dimmu Borgir. It features an image of what I’m assuming is the “Antipope” standing amidst a dystopian city, a burning church, and piles of skulls. Despite the cover art’s dark tone, it’s very tongue in cheek, coming off as a playful hyperbole that intersects the supernatural with the forces of death, destruction, and technology.

Dark Smoke Signal boasts a sound that’s somewhat familiar to early Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, and We are Magonia. The biggest difference, at least to me, was how far Dark Smoke Signal leans into an anti-christian aesthetic over one that is more horror-oriented. If Carpenter Brut is like the movie “Halloween,” then Dark Smoke Signal is like the anime “Hellsing.” Regardless, I grew up listening on a loop Cradle of Filth—so I eat this shit up.

Musically, “The Antipope Resurrection” is headbangingly good. The songs are well crafted with an audible low end that serves as the foundation for the album. This is accentuated with sawtooth leads, orchestral sounding interludes, and a healthy amount of audio sampling. All of these things come together driving forward the album’s menacing atmosphere. There’s a lot of cinematic melodrama here that will appeal to anyone into dark sounding music.

“Priest Runner” was a title that made my corpse-painted inner child smile with glee. It plays on the Blade Runner idea, only instead of replicants we’re hunting priests. The song itself has a wonderful intro featuring a very Vangelis like atmosphere. The glitch sound in the song’s intro reminds me of something you might see in a movie trailer (see Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Blade Runner for an example). “Priest Runner” fucking slams and is my second favorite track from the album.

My favorite track from “The Antipope Resurrection” is “Tearing the Wings off an Angel.” It is an absolute anthem straight out of the 1980s that needs to be on your Spotify playlist TODAY. I love it so much that it might just be one of my favorite songs ever. The vocals are so catchy that they give me goosebumps.

I think that the album would’ve benefited more by opening with “Priest Runner,” “Burn the Vatican” or “Chaotic Pendulum” as opposed to “Ad Infernum Crowley Diabolus.” “Ad Infernum Crowley Diabolus,” leans very heavily on a distorted bass rhythm that is almost exactly identical to Carpenter Brut’s “Roller Mobster,” (both songs are also in G major). I mean, I get it—opening the album with a banger is a good artistic choice. But for how creative Dark Smoke Signal was on the rest of the album, I think that putting this as the first song on the album is distracting. Maybe it would’ve been better as a bonus track.

Overall, Dark Smoke Signal has made one hell of a darksynth album. It’s certainly one of the best that I’ve heard this year. It isn’t easy to make a full-length that sounds, feels, and bangs as good as this one. I can foresee “The Antipope Resurrection” being in my regular rotation of music for years to come. I look forward to hearing what Dark Smoke Signal does next.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone into Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, We Are Magonia, and Gost.

Stand-out tracks: “Tearing the Wings Off an Angel” (MUST LISTEN, this is truly a remarkable track), “Priest Runner,” “Burn the Vatican,” “Chaotic Pendulum.”

Album Color Profile: #512E5F

You can find all things Dark Smoke Signal at https://darksmokesignal.bandcamp.com/

Still Life With Cat or SLWC is a cinematic dark pop project from Pescara, Italy. It features the hypnotic voice Lisa ‘Liz’ Monaco, music by Giampiero Mariani, and lyrics by Alessandro Di Zio. Their debut album “Megadream” boasts ten tracks of captivating emotion.

“Megadream” can only be described as beautifully calm and dark. And this may sound odd, but it’s also visually arresting. I found myself closing my eyes while I listened. “Megadream” is like a painting that you hear with your heart and see with your mind. Try to visualize sentient machines trying to figure out exactly who they are amidst a backdrop of rolling grassy fields, windy oceans, and expansive vistas. This is the true essence of Still Life With Cat. For a dystopian concept album, “Megadream” sounds completely different than I expected it to sound. It’s both evocative and refreshing. This is an album that has its roots in electronic music, but it’s not entirely electronic. These are songs that can and SHOULD BE performed live in an intimate, darkly-lit venue. There acoustic guitars, saxaphones, and jazzy vocals. The percussion is minimal and soft, but it works to the benefit of “Megadream,” not against it.

I really appreciate alternative perspectives on dystopian futures. Especially when they deviate from the traditional cyberpunk backdrop of mega-corporations, driving fast, and neon-soaked skies. Still Life With Cat accomplishes their own unique take on what the future could look like: one that’s full of hope and wonder. “Megadream” is magnificent. I look forward to seeing what SLWC do next.

RECOMMENDED: For people who want to chill out. For people who love calm cinematic music. For people who like vocals. If you dig stuff like Enigma’s “MCMXC A.D.” album you’ll probably really like this.

Stand-out tracks: Blind and Happy (best track from the album imo), Pure Blow, Big Old Black Wolf, A Spark into the Nowhere

Album Color Profile: #E8F5E9

You can find all things Still Life With Cat at https://stilllifewithcat.bandcamp.com/