What exactly do synth and metal have in common? There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot, but the theory that opposites attract has certainly proven true in many cases, and synthwave’s undeniable allure to the metal community is just one of them. With that being said, Indy Metal Vault is introducing a new feature called Synth By The Shred for those who have the itch to explore the retro sounds of this nostalgia-inspired genre, starting with a review of releases from April and early May. This section will include the macabre inspired anthems of darkwave, music which draws influence from the more pop coated styles of yesteryear, and just about any other genre which one would expect to fall under the retrowave tag.
So sit back, enjoy the ride through a landscape under neon lights, and expect dozens of 80s film soundbites fused over riveting dance music. I’ve split this up into two sections with my favorite albums at the top under Sickest Shreds.
Artist(s): Shredder 1984
Album: Undead Thrasher EP
Release: April 23, 2018
I’m a firm believer in starting things off by kicking the door in, so let’s start this feature off with some property damage caused by Shredder 1984’s incredibly heavy EP called Undead Thrasher. This music sounds like it was spawned from the mouth of a dragon. The percussions keep coming with the intensity of an undead ninja horde. This isn’t dance music, this is prep music for fighting an unrelenting force of evil. The album cover should give you a foreshadowing of what you are in for — synth music made for and by a metalhead. It’s no surprise that Shredder 1984’s composer Steven Shriver lists playing in French thrash metal band Can Of Worms among his accolades. In the eight or nine years that I have been listening to this type of music, its one of the most killer synth albums that I’ve heard. The tempos are frequently off of the chain and sound like something from a Dark Angel album — you know, if Dark Angel did Time Does Not Heal with synths.
Album: Graveyard Diner
Release: May 7th, 2018
Goremail is on a crazy level of good that inspires a ferver of thrills and chills with ghoulish dance music. The soundbytes are incredibly placed on each track, and they embellish Goremail’s music with narratives that are agreeable to the musical themes as a substitute for an utter lack in vocals. If you’re a devoted synth head, then you may be pondering whether to put Graveyard Diner on your AOTY lists by track four. Unfortunately, Graveyard Diner may be a bit exhausting if you try to devour it all in one sitting, so try to give yourself a rest between each half or your brain may be splattered by a grotesque abundance of intense jams.
Artist(s): Protector 101
Album: Protector 101 (Killbot Red Vinyl)
Release: April 29th, 2018
Protector 101 helped set the stage for what retrowave would become when they released this album on October 21, 2011. The album has been re-released as a limited edition collector’s item through Electric Dream Records, and even if you fail to score one of the impressive red vinyl albums, you may want to check out the unlimited stream available to visitors of Electronic Dream Recording’s Bandcamp page.
Everything from the dark ambient orgy of discord and ominous revelation on “Vision” to the eminent ass kicking requiem for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport “Fighting Spirit,” Protector 101 is an essential piece weaved into retrowave’s origins. From the first song “The Park Plaza Mall” to the final track “Stalkers,” you will be getting down with all that is righteous in this niche scene.
Artist(s): Neon Summers
Album: Off the Grid
Release: May 11th, 2018
The stand out track on this album is the dance remix of Fleetwood Mac’s serenade of love and temptation “Rhiannon,” and as a huge Mac fan, I’ll say that it’s an honorable electro tribute to one of the greatest singles from that era of rock lore. On the other hand, it also dominates the entire EP to the point where in my consideration the song should have just been released as a single to avoid hogging all of the attention. But again, this is coming from someone who puts Stevie Nicks pretty high up there on the God tier, so I come with a bias.
With that being said, the rest of this EP is pretty excellent from start to finish. The music has a nice smooth polish and vibes that will make even the most tedious casual afternoons feel good. “Drift Away” ft. Maverick Punk is an excellent track for getting your blood flowing, so if you need a fresh new track for your work-out playlist I would definitely recommend putting it on there.
Artist(s): Cloud Battalion
Album: Storm City EP
Release date: May 4th, 2018
Cloud Battalion’s Storm City is a high octane thrill ride that will set you through a course of nostalgic visuals of 80s glamor and futuristic dystopia. Its introduction is a brief track called “Opening Titles,” which presents a tale of an archetypal anti hero serving his own brand of justice to an otherwise hopeless metropolis. The rest of Storm City is instrumental, so the story telling must be done with your own imagination. This will probably benefit chronic daydreamers.
Storm City may require a few listens to really feel hooked to, which could be a bit of a letdown if you’ve been anticipating the first real Cloud Battalion release since their first single was two years ago. However it is ultimately a satisfying listen throughout all six of its songs.
The powerful fusion of sax and synth on “Outlaw” is excellent, and it stands as my favorite song on the album. Cloud Battalion definitely isn’t going to usurp the mantle of retrowave with this EP, but it is a solid contribution to the genre and I would look forward to more releases.
Album: Out Of Time
Release date: April 28th, 2018
Out Of Time is a mellow synthwave EP by veteran synth mastermind Nico Bernard/AWITW. The album has dreamy vibes and excellent composition all around. It certainly ventures much further into the dreamwave territory than AWITW’s March release Digital Dreams, but the depth of this composer also breathes life into some pretty heavy dance measures that weave in and out of his surreal pop style. AWITW just knows how to make majestic music without contriving anything overly avant-garde.
Artist(s): New Arcades
Album: Nothing Is Lost
Release Date: April 27th, 2018
New Arcades released an impressive album that will surely carry you over many long nights and joy rides through endless city lights. The duo behind the project are Dean Canty and Adam Sullivan, and they have released some pretty good singles leading up to the album in the last year, so it should come as no surprise that this one delivers on all counts.
Effervescent, dynamic, and pulsating — Nothing Is Lost is certainly an album you wouldn’t want to lose out on. The male vocals are a bit cheesy but they do fit into that pop music field, so the duo has room for an alibi under scrutiny. On the track “Inhale,” featured female artist Lula provides a strong contrast to Dean Canty and Adam Sullivan’s vocal styles; melodic and soothing with rich harmony, Lula conjures some of the best parts of the album.
Album: Xander Magnus
Release: April 27th, 2018
The 1980s were a time for dystopian action films of all kinds, but it was also a height for sci-fi in American pop culture, with the Star Wars sequels, Total Recall, and The Last Starfighter just to name a few boons to Western science fiction cinema. Xander Magnus may be one of the weaker albums in this feature, but it does have a strong appeal if that Space Invaders feel is your thing. Each track has a trippy space vibe that coincides with the album’s theme, so in that regard it’s certainly successful, however the tracks do sometimes feel repetitive and even sometimes boring.