John 3:16, the brainchild of producer Phillipe Gerber, is one of those projects that carries with it a long standing history over the last decade of being experimental, dark, and unapologetically divergent from its Biblical namesake. I first came into contact with Phillipe somewhere between 2010 and 2011, slightly before the release of his seminal “Visions of the Hereafter” album in 2012. During this time Phillipe has had nineteen releases under the John 3:16 moniker. His latest album “Edax Tempus Rerum,” is without a doubt his most important work yet. It was released on November 30th, 2020.

The cover artwork for “Tempus Edax Rerum” is very earthy. It’s sepia tone evokes desolation, death, and a slow, painful passage of time. These things are only exacerbated by sparse images of brush, sticks, and a solitary rotting lamb (of God?) in the middle left of the image, followed by another image of the lamb below it in a further state of decay. It’s almost as if Mortensen’s “Command to Look” was heavily referenced in the design of this cover as there’s something oddly dangerous about it.

The first thing that stuck out to me when I listened to “Tempus Edax Rerum” was its two hour length—although I quickly caught on to the fact that the album is in fact only a little more than an hour in length. John 3:16 gives the listener a choice, you can listen to the album in a digestible five tracks, or in a consolidated “omnibus” form which collects those five tracks into two thirty-one minute segments. Although, I will note that when you listen to this album in omnibus format, there are some really badass extras, particularly starting around the sixteen minute mark on Side A. I will say no more about this–pick your poison, just know that a slightly different “Tempus Edax Rerum” experience can be felt if you decide to plunge into the collected omnibus tracks.

Over the last two months of physically having this album in my hands I question how to describe “Tempus Edax Rerum.” In a couple of words I can say that this album is spiritually dangerous. At times, Phillipe presents more of an experience than he does actual music, although that experience is largely tied into how the listener relates the the vast soundscape found within this brilliant album. At times, there’s a very “Diablo II”-esque kind of vibe to this album. The latter half of “Part I” and “Part II” exemplifies this quality with shoegazey guitars draped over a tableau of atmosphere, processed pianos, and subtle brass. Repeated over and over again, it becomes very clear that this is music meant to be used for a very specific purpose. Personally speaking, as a long time practitioner of Black Magic, I found that “Tempus Edax Rerum” was the perfect backdrop for my private Grand Conjunction celebration on the 21st of December, 2020. Percussion, when it’s used, is very ritualistic. “Part II” cuts right to the chase when it comes to introducing soundtrack style percussion to help accentuate the medieval tone of the dueling guitars present throughout the track.

One of the things that “Tempus Edax Rerum” does really well is it’s implementation of sounds that might not normally feel listenable into the mix of the album. While present throughout, I feel that the introduction to “Part III” serves as a good example of how this is accomplished. After settling into “Part II’s” groove “Part III” rips you right out of that space with a grating metallic squeal that is used to push acoustic guitars forward into another, entirely different ceremonial tone that once again introduces percussion without feeling out of place or forced. There’s something very elegant about the way John 3:16 works with transitions on “Tempus Edax Rerum,” while still somehow maintaining a dark ugliness that doesn’t merely force you to dip your toes into fire, it pushes your head straight down into the Hells-broth itself.

My favorite track, simply entitled “Part IV,” is a deepcut collaboration with female vocalist Rasplyn (Carolyn O’Neill). This track features Rasplyn’s voice front and center, amidst a backdrop of breathy ambience, muted guitars, plodding soundtrack style ritualistic drums, and heavily EQed Ulver style male vocals to accentuate the experience further. Everything that came before “Part IV” on “Tempus Edax Rerum” serves as a precursor to this track by re-introducing nearly every aspect that helped to create the space here. Halfway through “Part IV” I was treated to a calming Bear McCreary style percussion that just begs to be performed before an audience open to the idea of being participants to something they might not entirely understand. If I had it my way, I would love to hear an entire album of shorter songs by John 3:16 with Rasplyn. This, to me, is the penultimate John 3:16 moment.

“Part V” closes the album out with a shorter exploration of all the elements that made up “Tempus Edax Rerum.” Although I will say that this exploration is much more straightforward and to the point. There’s a lot of experimental energy to this track that feels like a medieval witch burning.

I think that “Tempus Edax Rerum,” is special because it combines the sensibilities of drone and black metal with a soundtrack quality that shows the sheer range of Phillipe Gerber’s capabilities as an artist. Phillipe understands precisely where he wants to go and how he’s going to get there. Speaking from the heart, there’s only one other album released this year that feels as realized and as polished as what John 3:16 has released here. If I was making movies or short films, (which might actually happen in the near future) John 3:16 would without a doubt be one of the artists I would tap as the imagery I’m attracted to within my mind is congruent to the soundscape presented here. “Tempus Edax Rerum,” is an incredible piece that cannot be easily understood the first, second, or third time you listen to it. I only grew to appreciate it when it became a lingering part of my life over the last couple of months. “Tempus Edax Rerum” is that one album I can turn on to do anything: to relax, to evoke the Prince of Darkness, to be creative.

This album sits within the unholy trinity that is my top three albums of 2020. (Of which, I’ll probably write something else about when we finally get into 2021).

STAND-OUT TRACKS: All.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Ritualists, soundtrack aficionados, burnt out Black Metal enthusiasts, people who understand the true nature of Darkness with a capital ‘D.’

Album Color Profile: EVIL SMOKE FROM HELLISH HELLY HELL

You can find all things John 3:16 at https://john316.bandcamp.com/

Deckard 88 is a retro-style producer from Buenos Aires, Argentina. While they have only recently come onto the scene in September, I have to say, there’s a lot of promise here. Yeah, it’s true, Synthwave doesn’t have that shiny new car smell anymore, but you know what? There’s still quite a few artists out there exploring the genre with fresh new enthusiasm. Deckard 88’s first full length is entitled “Controlled Machines.” It was quietly released on October 12th, 2020.

The cover art for “Controlled Machines” reminds me of an old, worn, movie poster for a late 70s or 80s horror flick. You know, something like this. There’s a cyberpunky Gibson-esque Neuromancer vibe to the artwork here that has been done to death at this point in the game, but I think it’s executed well, and has nice aesthetics that compliment the music within “Controlled Machines” well.

Despite using Cubase to capture all of the sounds heard here (and for post production), Deckard 88 boasts using an array of hardware synths on “Controlled Machines. There’s a real tangible feel to the overarching sound of this album showing that Deckard 88 has a good understanding of the tools he has available. I happen to enjoy the fact that a PO-28 was used on this album. As an aside, Teenage Engineering, most well known for the legendary OP-1 unit, has some other extremely affordable hardware synths, especially in their Pocket Operator line. For anyone looking to get into that side of the game, they’re definitely worth checking out. Other synths that Deckard 88 used here include the Volca Kick, the Roland TR-8 for some of the 808 related percussion, and the Korg Minilogue.

Anyway, onto the music!

What does Deckard 88 sound like? Well, rather nostlagic, but with the right level of modern sound design. There’s a slight fuzz draped over the entire production of “Controlled Machines” giving it that analogue style grit, but it’s also very clean sounding at the same time. I drove around the city over the weekend blasting this album in my car, I listened to it on my tinny old computer speakers, from my phone (while I washed dishes), with a pair of headphones, and on my studio monitors. What’s unique to “Controlled Machines” is that it sounds nice everywhere I took it. “Summer Time” highlights the range this album has from it’s atmospheric soundscape, to its heavy distant and spacey pads, dreamy silver sounding keys, and a warm low end that kind of just takes you away into some starry nebula somewhere in the vast cosmos of space. In general, I found “Controlled Machines” to be most powerful when I was relaxing. I even did a nice little meditation with it running in the background and didn’t feel like it was agitating me.

Of all the tracks available here, I quite like “Interlude (1989).” It’s epic, but it’s low key epic. There’s a nice subtle build-up to this short track that sort of sums up everything I enjoy about what Deckard 88 has done here. “Mono no Aware” sticks out to me as sleeper hit from this album for a few reasons. First of all, it highlights one of Anthony Michael Hall’s most famous lines from the “The Breakfast Club,” which for some reason has become a staple in this type of music. For as many times as I’ve heard this “friendship” line it doesn’t get old. Every time I hear this exchange from John Hughes finest directorial moment I feel like life is breaking up with me. Profound sadness. Second, despite being really low key, “Mono no Aware,” is one earworm of a song. When the initial build-up of the music fades somewhere north of the 1:36 mark it embraces you in it’s nostalgic light just hoping to evoke some sort of genuine feeling from your dead lifeless body. Thirdly, the harmonica sounding synth is wonderful. “Arcade Rush” is one of the few tracks on “Controlled Machines” that’s a little more upbeat, and features some neat EQ tricks to give the song a little more texture than your average straight forward Synthwave affair. The one song I really wanted to like more on this album was “Broken Reality,” but the “One Small Step for Man,” Neil Armstrong quote took me out of it’s vibe as soon as I heard it. Not that there’s anything wrong with Neil Armstrong, I just think it’s one of the most sampled quotes in music at this point.

Overall, Deckard 88 has done a nice job here. I would’ve like to have heard some more analogue style distortion on this album, but I definitely couldn’t have produced something as good as this myself. So it gets a HELL YEAH from me. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to spend some time with this album. “Controlled Machines,” is a solid listen, and I think if you’re legit into Synthwave you’re going to absolutely love this one.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Mono no Aware,” “Arcade Rush,” “Interlude (1989),” and “Summer Time.”

RECOMMENDED FOR: Synthwave-heads, fans of 80s cinematic music, people looking for something relaxing and low key.

Album Color Profile: #D500F9

You can find all things Deckard 88 at https://deckard88.bandcamp.com/

Your Sister is a Werewolf is the Synthwave project of producer Josh Molen from Knoxville, Tennesee. YSIAW first burst onto the scene in February 2019 with their debut album “C.H.A.D.” Their latest album is entitled “Captain Video.” It was released on August 28th, 2020.

On the cover is a really wonderful image by Chrome and Lightning. It features someone standing in front of a video rental store in tight jeans and Reeboks. For those of you who have never experienced the absolute joy of entering one of these fine establishments, let me just tell you, it’s thrilling. This image perfectly captures the sheer level of excitement I used to feel going to the movie store. The blinding lights. The smell of buttery day old popcorn. The sticky floors. That weird plastic smell that strangely reminds me of petrol. Man, I miss the 80s and 90s. What a time to be alive. I feel truly blessed to live nearby one of the remaining video stores in the U.S. I still make weekly trips down there in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. Interestingly enough, there still exists an actual Captain Video store in San Mateo, California. Now whether or not Molen took inspiration from this former Bay Area franchise, I’m not sure. Regardless, I love this album cover. It’s says a lot without saying much.

So how does “Captain Video” sound? Extremely authentic. It’s on point for the time period that it’s trying to emulate. This is a function of using the right tools in the correct context. From the word “go” “Jumping the Turnstiles” serves as the penultimate YSIAW track. It shows off a little bit of everything that this album does. And what this album does, it does well. I particularly enjoy the pointed synth that comes in at 2:12. I was almost instantly reminded of John Carpenter’s opening theme from Escape from New York.

While the presentation of “Captain Video” seemingly takes a lot of influence from early 1980s soundtracks its general vibe is much more akin to similar music being produced in the mid-eighties. You know, when producers of the time really started to get a little more comfortable with the tools at their disposal. The way that Molen was able to make “Captain Video” breathe is nothing short of amazing. Ironically enough, “Breathe Easily” highlights this quite a bit through some exceptional compression, reverb, and EQ choices that make the track come alive in such a way that feels effortless and easy to listen to. There’s nothing more satisfying than a little bit of audible air. My ears are in love with “Captain Video” because of it.

There are so many nuanced and deliberate details coming together here in order to create a fantastic nostalgic vibe. The nervous system of how “Captain Video” sounds so authentic lies in three key points: its wideness in the stereo field, it’s warmth (greatly aided by pitchbendiness), and the analogue sounding distortion that appears throughout the album.

In my opinion, “Neon Illusion” demonstrates the wideness of this album well. At 1:38, the bells and plucks sound three dimensional amidst the backdrop of a synthesized Juno-106esque sax. As this part continues the sax itself feels like it’s shifting from a more synthesized sound to a much more realistic version of itself. It’s quite impressive to hear if you’re paying careful attention.

Tasteful distortion and warmth are also incredibly vital to how the ear perceives whether or not music sounds vintage or not. And let me just tell you, Molen is a goddamn wizard when it comes to his command of how to implement these two things into his music. “Digital Image Correction” highlights an example of how to use warmth and distortion correctly. Good golly Molly the pads scream on this album. Listen in at around 1:30 to see what I mean.

Overall, what Your Sister is a Werewolf has done here is perhaps the most enjoyable Synthwave album that I’ve heard all year. This isn’t Synthwave in name only, this is actual Synthwave that was carefully crafted to accurately emulate a specific period of time. For serious, “Captain Video” was such a goddamn treat to listen to. Mr. Molen discounts nothing on this release, and uses the entire spectrum of hearable sound to make a memorable album worthy of your time. Please check this one out.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Mitch Murder, fans of movie soundtracks from the mid-eighties, Synthwave heads looking for authentic vibes.

Stand-Out tracks: ALL! But if I had to pick, listen to “Jumping the Turnstiles,” “Slow Going (feat. Gab Manette),” “Neon Illusion,” “Digital Image Correction,” and “Late Fees.”

Album Color Profile: #EBDEF0

You can find all things Your Sister is a Werewolf at https://yoursisterisawerewolf.bandcamp.com/

Make Believe Machines is an avant-garde, neo-classical project from Des Moines, Iowa. At the center of this project is producer Justin Norman. Right at the tail-end of 2019, Norman released “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” which tells the his personal tale of grief in losing a close friend and grandparents. While this isn’t Make Believe Machines’s latest album, I feel compelled to write about this one as I connected with it earlier this year amidst my ongoing search of music worth listening to.

Artistically speaking, Norman is keen to the fact that ambiguity plays a big part in how art is perceived. He writes, “I’ve always connected with instrumental music, because without the specificity of lyrics, the listener is free to insert their own circumstances into the world of the song. It’s my hope that the new pieces of music on this record can be some comfort to others in trying times.” Personally speaking, I think that whenever an artist tries to define exactly what their art is for their audience it can come off as trite. Specific sounds, atmospheres, vibes, and visuals can bring about as many different feelings as there are people in the world. Music is very subjective. In my case, darker sounding music (like this) is very uplifting. However, those same sounds might be depressing or cause no feelings whatsoever in someone else. To Norman, “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” has specific meaning, but he doesn’t discount the fact that ambiguity is what really makes this album tick.

From the get-go there is one thing that separates “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” from the majority of the new music I’ve listened to this year: this album feels gigantic. I’m sure that part of this is a function of Norman treating the mix of this album with loving care, and then outsourcing this to a proper mastering engineer. The other part of why this album sounds so large is because of the energy behind the art presented here. It’s not often that you come across an artist who can so beautifully express what they want to say with their music, especially when it comes to instrumental music. In a sense, instrumental music is much more difficult to “get right,” primarily because there’s a an unspoken notion among creative minds in all genres that it’s easier to produce. Quite frankly, this point of view is understandable. Vocals can be a pain in the ass to–but can the twenty instrumental albums you released in the last year actually paint a picture? Can they tell a story? Can they do both of those things even if your listeners don’t know anything about you or your process? “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” can.

In terms of how “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” sounds, I feel that most people will instantly compare it to Hans Zimmer. Generally speaking though, I think that Make Believe Machines has much more in common the kind of music Thomas Newman (The Green Mile, American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption) typically churns out. This is an album that is definitely cinematic, but at a more down to earth and slow pace. The entire album has an unmistakable undertone of heavy sadness throughout that makes me think about every moment in my life that I didn’t have control over.

While the entire album is a high water mark for this type of music, there were a few moments that really resonated with me. “Ghosts Made of Static” is the song I would direct people to listen to first if they wanted to see what to expect from this album. This is a song that’s extremely textured, ambient, and string driven. This song gives me thoughts of wanting to escape into the woods. Like, when I listen to”Ghosts Made of Static” I actually see spinning eddies of leaves and dirt occupying an empty autumnal path like solemn ghosts. It’s almost like every person in my life who is no longer here has a voice in this song. It’s rather beautiful. “This Olive Branch is a Hornet’s Nest” has a very infectious Silent Hill vibe with its piano driven movement. The ever so slight sample reversals going on here just add to that feeling as well. When it comes to what I see when I listen to this song, I think about a car ride to the cemetery in the rain, or looking out my window in longing for days that are no longer here. “Mount St. Michel’s Revenants” features a very prominent violin and cello duet by Elaina Steenson and Anna Kucera respectively that feels like looking back at the world from the perspective of someone being laid to rest. There’s a mutual feeling of regret here that encapsulates a conversation between the living and those who have passed on into the aether. “The Restless Woods” is also an incredible highlight from this album, what with the simple piano and the right amount of reverb and atmosphere to give it vibrant and visual life. Finally, “Another Fruitless Victory” is the point in the album where I felt that the Zimmer parallels could be felt the most. This is a slow, plodding, song that really speaks to its title by questioning whether or not there’s any inherent meaning in life at all. Everything is finite–and I feel that this song does well in pointing that simple fact out.

As far as complaints are concerned, I don’t have many. Structurally, all of the songs are solid. The song titles hit the mark too. That said, for as much as I feel like this album would’ve benefited from the songs flowing into one another more smoothly. Part of this lies in how difficult it can be to separate tracks out so that they seamlessly run into one another, but the other aspect of this may have to do with how the tracks were arranged order-wise. Outside of that, this is a near flawless effort by an indie artist to get that big cinematic sound.

While I want to avoid getting overly existential in my analysis of this release, “A Lonely Gust Toward the Heavens” represents, at least to me, the necessary process of having to grieve through the death of a loved one, be it a friend, a parent, or partner. This is absolutely, one-hundred percent, NOT feel good music. Don’t come here looking for bopping happy vibes. Come here looking for an album that will make you want to reflect and listen to the compartmentalized hurt inside of your heart.

Album Color Profile: #E8F5E9

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who need a much needed cry or grief-release.

Stand-Out tracks: All. But definitely check out “Ghosts Made of Static” if you aren’t sold on this album yet.

You can find all things Make Believe Machines at https://makebelievemachines.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/

Victor Roy is an electronic music producer from Barcelona, Spain. He made his debut in 2019 with his debut album “Failure to Discern.” His follow-up “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” was released in February by RetroSynth Records.

The concept behind “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” encapsulates precisely why Synthwave and its related genres have taken off in popularity. The 1980s/early 90s were strange in that, science fiction films, gave us a hyperbolic glimpse into (an aesthetically pleasing) future. For example, Blade Runner takes place in 2019. When we look back at Blade Runner from a 2020 perspective it really makes you wonder…how did anyone ever think that by 2019 we would’ve been to the Tanhauser Gate, had another world war, and be surrounded by sexy replicants? Synthwave basically takes our own history and throws it out in favor of false realities and experiences that have never existed. It’s pretty weird that the human mind can trick us into becoming nostalgic for a 1980s version of what 2019 should’ve/could’ve been. Victor Roy’s “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” leans into the concept heavily, at least contextually, as the tent-pole unto which his latest album is supported by.

After listening to “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost,” I think that it really does a great job exploring the concept in which it was based. At the same time, it sounds like an album written in 2019 that reveres the 1980s version of 2019. If that sounds confusing don’t feel bad. This album is extremely meta and self-referential. Generally speaking, I think that if this album was released as in the 1980s, it would’ve been a big deal. It probably also would’ve been used for a movie soundtrack. As a music critic, I feel that this is an important milestone to hit, especially for a Synthwave adjacent artist.

“Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” has a very polished shiny postmodern vibe. A lot of careful thought went into this album production wise which makes it an enjoyable listen. Despite the fact that this album has a very soundtrack leaden vibe, I don’t think that it has much else in common with Synthwave, Darksynth, or other Retro genres. I actually feel that this album transcends all of these genres, but not necessarily for the better—at least from the perspective of a hardcore Synthwave fan. That said, this album is not for those folks. This is music for people looking to be challenged by music that pushes beyond the limits of Synthwave. Sure, there are plenty of Vangelis sounding moments on “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” but it captures those moments without breakneck sidechained vaccum basses, sixteenth note clapping, or a pumping drum beat. “Fantastic Tales of a Future Lost” is music that puts an emphasis on exploring Cyberpunky music through melodies rather than beats.

“Rewind” serves as the album’s most retro sounding song thanks to it’s opening riff, but it also (thankfully) diverges from that sound as the song goes on. “Path to Glory” stands out as the most soundtrack worthy song by giving those Interstellar Hans Zimmer feels. Peak Victor Roy is reached in the latter half of the album with two songs: “Stage Two” and “Dungeon of the Mind.” “Stage Two” reminds me of Yuzo Koshiro’s work on the PC Engine CD port of Ys I & II. The song begins quietly, but masterfully works its way upward into a diminished key change that really pops. “Stage Two’s” melody is completely antithetical to the vibe that the song opened with—it’s seriously wonderful. “Dungeon of the Mind” is equally as awe-inspiring for the same reason. It evokes some very Michiru Yamane (Castlevania) energy that really made me want an entire album of similar music. Here’s hoping that on the Roy decides to fully explore similar on his next album, because video game sounding tunes seem to be his strong suit.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this album. As mentioned before, if you’re looking for Synthwave that’ll give you nostalgic vibes you probably should look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a well-produced challenge that represents a direction that Synthwave might be going in the near future, have a listen. This one might surprise you.

RECCOMENDED FOR: People who like melody driven science fiction/cyberpunk music.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Stage Two,” (so fucking good), “Dungeon of the Mind” (so fucking good part 2 the revenge), “Path to Glory,” “Rewind,” “Synthesized Hole.”

Album Color Profile: #633974

You can find all things Victor Roy at https://victorroy.bandcamp.com/

Void Stare is a cyberpunk influenced dark synth project from Australia. It features the vocalist from Brisbane’s black ambient metallers Spire. “Zero One” tells the tale of an “omniprescent dark force” that either traverses through or exists simultaneously in multiple locations. These locations in “Zero One” are all cyberpunk or science fiction related. Each one is given a track, which is a really cool idea for a concept album. It reminds me a bit of the Loc-Nar from the movie Heavy Metal (1981).

The first time I spun “Zero One” I didn’t get it. And I suspect that the majority of people who give this album a go will be in the same boat. THAT SAID–“Zero One” isn’t your garden variety type of darksynth that exploits the listener by using major scales or their relative minor scales to inject the music with “feels.” This album is purposely engineered with the intention of satisfying listeners looking to be confronted with something a little different.

For the most part, “Zero One” is instrumental with the exception of two really cool moments with “Soldier (A Martian Death)” and “Seethe (Trapped in Obsidian Eyes).” Other songs like “Crusader (Perfect Heresy Machine) feature what sounds like Mongolian throat singing. Structurally, all of the songs are fully fleshed out explorations that avoid using the traditional verse, prechourus, chorus structure. There’s a noise element to this album that adds to the album’s atmosphere. At times, “Zero One” reminded me a lot of the live action Ghost in the Shell (2017) soundtrack, but I think it tends to be a bit more bleak. Other times I felt small traces of Tangerine Dream (think “Phaedra” and “Rubycon”) sneak into Void Stare’s work. Keep in mind though that this has a more postmodern sound to it production wise.

“Zero One” is sophisticated darksynth in the same way that Emperor’s “IX Equilibrium” is sophisticated black metal. You are going to hear something new every time you give this album a spin. With that in mind—ask yourself: how many darksynth artists are capable of creating a similar experience?

Overall, Void Stare isn’t in the business of creating music that is easy to listen to. Don’t expect bass drops with “Zero One.” This is NOT a melodic, lead driven dark synth album. The first couple of times I listened to “Zero One” I missed so many small details that make this release really fucking good. It is an album that will attack any preconceptions of what you’d like to think darksynth should sound like. “Zero One” has a challenging repertoire of songs that are dangerously catchy once you are prepared to understand exactly what it is that it is doing.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Listeners who want to be challenged, folks who like something a little darker, people who like music that takes risks.

Stand-out tracks: “Rachel (Suffer by Design)” (aka the fucking best track, I love this one), “Decomissioned (Abandon the Protodome),” “Tannhauser Gate (N6maa10816),” “Crusader (Perfect Heresy Machine)”

Album Color Profile: #C62828


“Negative Space” by Burial Grid is a collaboration with horror novelist B.R. Yeagar and New England producer Adam Michael Kozak. The album serves as the soundtrack to Yeagar’s novel also entitled “Negative Space.” The book focuses on a synthetic hallucinogen called WHORL. As WHORL begins to take over the lives of the four main characters, they come into contact with four “string-shaped” ghosts. The ghosts apparently teach the characters of the novel a lot of crazy shit.

“Negative Space” makes “Requiem for a Dream” and “John Dies at the End” look like episodes of Paw Patrol. Remember kids—drugs are bad, m’kay? WHORL will distort your reality, cause you to see ghosts, and turn you into a masturbating degenerate on collision course with ruin. Death magick might sound fun at first, but when rags start having faces remember that you were warned.

What Burial Grid has chosen to do with “Negative Space” isn’t so much musical, but rather a sonic translation of indescribable, otherworldly hate and animus. This creates a landscape that paves a road to somewhere so horrifying that words alone can’t accurately describe what’s going on here. This album is beautifully grotesque, experimental, and cold-blooded. With “Negative Space,” Burial Grid taps into the unsettling ugliness that exists within all of us. It is a violation of senses, and a masterpiece—on a colossal scale.

Burial Grid strays away from traditional songwriting and instead focuses on exploration over structure. Rhythm-wise, “Negative Space” is almost completely devoid of any proper percussion. Although it is effectively used in “The Rope Man,” which sounds like the ending theme to a really fucked up movie. In general, I really don’t have anything to compare “Negative Space” to. It’s like listening to a mix of Akira Yamaoka’s work on Silent Hill 3 and Stalaggh’s “Projekt Nihil.”

“Negative Space” is note-worthy and deserves attention. This is album of the year quality work here folks. Seriously, run, don’t walk towards picking up this release.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who love horror. It’s truly one of the best horror-oriented soundtracks ever. I’m probably dreaming, but I hope “Negative Space” gets a movie.

Stand-out tracks: Let’s be real—everything stands out, but “The Rags Had a Face” was my personal favorite, followed by “The Woman Buried Beneath the Candle,” “A Poltergeist Drug,” and “The Rope Man.”

Album Color Profile: #7B241C



Philippe Gerber is something of a visionary. I was first introduced to his occult project JOHN 3:16 way back in the early 2010s. The first track I ever heard from him was his interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’s fire and brimstone leaden sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I instantly knew right then and there that what I was hearing was an intimate glimpse of Hell itself. Mr. Gerber is connected to something I can’t even begin to describe with words. It scares me to death—and I can’t keep myself from looking away.

Earlier this year, Philippe released a short EP entitled “Sodom & Gomorrah.” The artwork is by the amazing Azi Hariramdani. It features a black and white ram’s skull and sigil that easily could have been used on an early Deathspell Omega release. It gives “Sodom & Gomorrah” a certain cult-like mystique that I haven’t felt the presence of since 2004.


Musically, I find that “Sodom & Gomorrah” matches its namesake well. To me, this EP is sixteen minutes of pure bliss. Inside are two tracks, each one based off of the depraved bibilcal cities. Here JOHN 3:16 took me on a doomy whirlwind journey that took me places beyond the outer reaches of human experience. It is transcendent, metallic atmospheric, dark, and hellish. Of the two tracks available I much prefer “Gomorrah” especially for it’s industrial infused moments. It also breaks off into a ritualistic drum rhythm towards the end of the track that adds some cinematic excitement to the overall release. It made me feel like I was walking hand-in-hand with the Devil himself through Israel during the crucifixion.


Of all JOHN 3:16’s releases, this is probably my favorite. It’s concise, the artwork is on point, and it just sounds great. It’s releases like “Sodom & Gomorrah” that makes me remember what it’s like to be mystified by music that goes beyond the music.


RECOMMENDED FOR: War-torn veterans of the black/death/doom/occult crowd looking for something completely new, but familiar. It reminds me of something that could’ve been on Northern Heritage back in the mid-2000s.

Album Color Profile: #000000


You can find all things JOHN 3:16 at https://john316.bandcamp.com/