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/

Bara Hari (aka Samantha Franco) is an electronic producer/vocalist from Los Angeles, California. She’s a rather new addition to the electronic music scene, but don’t hold that against her because Franco’s talent is undeniable. Her first EP is entitled “Pandora’s Box” and it came out on June 19th, 2020.

The cover artwork is quite nice. The color choices here are also solid and subtle. I particularly like the faux shrink wrap along the edges of the image, it gives this a real tangible feel despite the fact that there isn’t a physical release of “Pandora’s Box”—yet. Trey Wellerman and Sam Franco’s design here is great because it tells everything there is about the release by including Bara’s logo, a couple of images, the tracklisting, and of course, a stunning photograph of Samantha.

I’m not entirely sure to what extent Samantha Franco played in the production process of this EP. It’s clear that she performs the vocals for “Pandora’s Box.” What’s confusing is that there’s also a producer credit for someone named Ian Flux. This leads me to believe that this EP was largely a collaborative effort. Which for how polished it is would make sense. If I had to guess, I think that Franco first wrote the music for “Pandora’s Box” via DAW, and then outsourced the mixing process to Flux and mastering to Lee McCartney. Regardless of how this all got done, this is a great little EP. It’s top-tier and succinct. To me, this is the embodiment of Darkpop near-perfection. That said, without Franco’s vocal performance it wouldn’t be what it is. Don’t get me wrong, the music is fantastic on it’s own, but it’s significantly strengthened by the presence of her magnetic voice.

The lyrical themes on “Pandora’s Box” delve into the subject matter common to Gothic types of music. Franco frequently takes dark images and uses them to create a space where she can express sometimes romantic interpersonal angst via song. At times, her lyricisms remind me of a poppy Miranda Sex Garden just with much more cutting. See this excerpt from Bara Hari’s “Dark Water”:

“I dragged you down with me/So deep we could no longer see/Ourselves in our reflections/At the bottom of the sea Murky as the water/Pooling at our feet/The tide has come/The current cuts/And it pulled you away from me.”

The theme of cutting, or rather separation seems to be the primary theme of “Pandora’s Box.” Separation from the people that we thought we loved, separation from the past, and separation from the things that hold us back. On the surface, it may seem that Franco’s lyrics only focus on relationship problems, but really they are more about liberation. Which, to me, shows that there’s definitely something more going on up underneath the surface of this EP than meets the eye.

“Carving Flesh” was one of my favorite tracks from “Pandora’s Box.” The opening reminded me of something you might hear on an early Lady Gaga album, but it quickly turned into something much darker. Franco’s vocals are remarkable on this track not just because they are clear, but because they change the context of the music by becoming an instrument in their own right. The best song on the EP goes to “White Noise.” I feel like the lyrical content of this track is very relevant in the post-Covid world. The track discusses what it means to be separated from other people, whilst also being trapped within the prison of the mind. When she mentions “Pandora’s Box” in this song I get the picture that it serves as an allegory for the chaotic space of Internet:

“Listen to the white noise/Coming from Pandora’s box/Taken by the embrace of the past/Transient attraction/Of everything that used to be/Has lost its charm but won’t let go of me.”

Overall, this is an explosive debut for Bara Hari. Had this been a full-length LP, it would be right up there with Collide’s “Chasing the Ghost.” It’s that good. I honestly can’t wait to see where she takes this project—because it is just dripping with potential.

And real talk, if there’s anyone out there in the void from Paradox Interactive, you need to get Bara Hari’s music into “Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines 2.” This is the type of music made for that kind of atmosphere.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who like to cry dance.

Stand-Out Tracks: I absolutely loved every song on “Pandora’s Box,” but if I had to choose, please check out “Carving Flesh,” “White Noise,” and “Dark Water” first.

Album Color Profile: #F8BBD0

You can find all things BARA HARI at https://barahari.bandcamp.com

Ötzi is a four-piece postpunk band from Oakland, CA. It features the talents of Akiko Sampson (bass, lead vocals), Gina Marie (drums, vocals), K. Dylan Edrich (guitars), and Winter Zora (keyboards).

“Storm” is Ötzi’s second full-length album closely following on the heels of their amazing debut “Ghosts” which was released in 2017. I can best describe the sound of “Storm” as a mashup of postpunk vibes from the 1980s that is reminiscent of Eva O, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Joy Division. There is also a slight 1990s vibe to the overall sound Ötzi present that feels somewhat to me like The Cranberries. This especially shines through in “Hold Still,” which is the least dark sounding song, at least to me, on “Storm.” Even the chorus is giving me flashbacks to The Cranberries “No Need to Argue.” This is really cool considering that the overall sound of “Storm” focuses more on the decade before:

“I see the ocean in your eyes
I’m reaching for you
Tears reflecting darker skies
I’m all around you
I reach up to touch the ground
I’m here beside you
I feel the earth spin me around
I hold still for you”

Every member Ötzi plays their part in engineering an atmosphere that can undoubtedly be re-created in a live setting. Production wise, the most notable thing is how upfront the bass guitar tends to be. And while it’s not uncommon for this type to have the bass guitar so up front in the mix it never ceases to sound fresh and exciting. The guitars range from droning sustained notes to chorus leaden melodies which work together with the rest of the band. The drum work is energetic, acoustic, and real as all hell. Akiko’s vocals are frantic, emotional, and present. My head cannon for this album pictures Ötzi recording this album live and in one take.

“Scorpio” stands out to me as the most distinguishable track off of “Storm.” The saxaphone was somewhat unexpected, but it just screams at you to get up and dance. Akiko’s best vocal performance also shows up here. Who thought yelling “I love you,” over and over again could be so catchy? I could see this song in a movie about someone trying to deal with a drug problem spiraling out of control.

I don’t often get an opportunity to review actual bands. In the age of the laptop producer they are something of a novelty. There’s just something special about four individuals coming together in order to create something. I don’t often come across a collective piece of art as good as “Storm.” If you’re into 80s postpunk, get on this album immediately. Your playlist will love you for it.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of 80s postpunk (aka people who like good music).

Stand-Out Tracks: “Scorpio,” “Eight Cups,” and “Moths.”

Album Color Profile: #78281F

You can find all things Ötzi at https://otzi.bandcamp.com/