This review is a bit of a milestone for this site as this EP is the first advance copy that I have ever received for a review. Yes! Please, people, send me your albums. I will happily listen to them and tell you what I think.
This advance copy came out of the blue as I’ve only conversed with Terrordyne via Twitter. Who knew darkwave producers were so sociable? While their music is, at times, the soundtrack to getting shanked by a dude in a hockey mask, darkwave producers are (on the whole) a fun loving bunch. That fun just happens to include making music for the coming zombie apocalypse.
At any rate, I downloaded Terrordyne’s latest album, Rebirth, hit play on my Winamp player (it really whips the llama’s ass), and this is what I heard:
At the start of “The Reckoning” a bright synth pad rings out, right before a resonance heavy, filter swept synth blast hits. We all know that sound. Go listen to the intro to “Tom Sawyer” by Rush. The intro to that tune has a very similar sound. This is a solid way to start off a track, as it is time tested and true. The filter sweep blasts are in lock step with a kick drum, increasing the drama with each hit. An arpeggio plays in the background, heightening the tension. Toms hit and the intro is over. The full drum kit enters and “The Reckoning” kicks into overdrive.
Right out of the gate I hear what is, most likely, the most common rhythm in synthwave coming from the bass. It’s a synthwave trope that has seen some wear in recent years, namely a sixteenth note rest followed by three sixteenth notes bass line. This has become emblematic of synthwave over the years. Although it’s become a little worn from use as of late, Terrordyne uses it well here to create a grim/dark/bleak atmosphere for this track. The sound design on the bass is dark and heavy as hell. It sounds a bit like a Korg Polysix that has been run through some chorus and perhaps a bit of overdrive. There’s a really nice, rolling thump to it. Sounds badass! The chords that play above it complete the feeling of the track, as the synth pad that plays these chords is equally dark and spooky.
Yet another synth pad plays on top of this pad, which also features some ominous and foreboding sound design. These echoing synths accent the music and make it sound like there is danger up ahead.
A melody fades in about 45 seconds in. It repeats its simple yet effective line, which works over all of the chord changes. At the minute mark toms hit and a new instrument is introduced. Is it spooky and dark? It’s Terrordyne, so yes! I like the bass arpeggios in this section. These arpeggios really add to the driving nature of the track and they keep things moving along nicely.
A breakdown occurs shortly after this, signaled by toms. Toms! They signal breakdowns. It’s what they do. It’s a staple of synthwave at this point. Did you hear toms? Something is about to happen, trust me.
After the breakdown another minimalistic, ethereal melody hits. This section is brief as another very nicely done breakdown occurs shortly after at 1:34. The drums cut out and I hear an arpeggio that sounds like a synth bell made by a square wave.
Another minimalistic melody hits and suddenly I get it. This track has kind of this whole “theme to the horror movie Halloween” vibe to it, only it’s way heavier sounding. This is music for fighting Michael Myers, but in a dystopian future setting where mankind has relocated to Mars and we all live in underground tubes. Simple, effective, creepy melodies work best in this kind of situation, and I like how these static, repetitive, simple melody lines work so well and sound dark and scary over the chord changes that they play over. Is someone out there currently making a Warhammer 40k game? I found your title screen/menu music. You can thank me later.
Remember those Rush “Tom Sawyer” synth blasts from the beginning? They come back around 1:53 for another breakdown. An audio filter of some sort gets used here, which serves to cloak the melody and then fade it back in. That’s when the TOMS HIT and we’re back to the main theme of the song. I told you something was going to happen, because that’s what happens when TOMS HIT.
The section that occurs at 2:28 is a nice change of pace. I guess I would consider it to be the bridge to this instrumental track, as it introduces some new ideas and some new instruments that were not heard earlier in the song. The stuttering synth in this section plays with a rhythm similar to the bass. I particularly like the sound design here, as the stutter synth provides an interesting accent to the bass line. The octave jumps that this synth performs are also a particularly nice touch.
A crash cymbal signals the outro of “The Reckoning,” as a John Carpenter-esque arpeggio plays out the remainder of the track. This outro fits the whole spooky/horror/I’m-going-to-get-murdered-by-a-robot-sent-from-the-future feel of this track. This is Darkwave, people. Were you expecting anything less than robot murder music? Get the fuck off my blog.
A deceptively upbeat arpeggio starts the intro of “Stygian,” played by what sounds like a synthesized marimba with a healthy amount of delay. This arpeggio takes a dark turn when it is followed up by a quote from the infamous mob hitman Richard Kuklinski. A low bass note rings out, adding to the absolutely terrifying words of Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski (he got that nickname because he liked to freeze his victims in order to make their time of death harder to figure out).
I’ve pissed off a few people in my life, so I’m glad that Kuklinski was never one of them. Then again, if I ever pissed that dude off, I would not be writing this review without someone reanimating my corpse first.
Pounding drums heighten the intensity of this intro, followed by a brief breakdown where Kuklinski says “I will kill you.” That’s when the bass drum hits, four on the floor, hard an heavy. The kick drum heard here is accompanied by an arpeggiated bassline that has another arpeggio playing above it, several octaves higher in an upper register.
Shortly after the full kit comes in and this track is on. Another one of Terrordyne’s signature spooky arpeggiated melodies come in. This arpeggio is soon accompanied by a dark synth pad that adds to the eerie, ominous atmosphere.
It’s a shame that this track comes seven years after the 2012 movie about Kuklinski’s life, “The Iceman.” This track, like much of Terrordyne’s work, belongs in a film, preferably the horror genre. I could see “Stygian” working in a mob film as well.
It’s also worth noting that Terrordyne tapped the talents of The Encounter for this track. The Encounter is another darkwave artist that is very much worth looking into if darkwave is your jam. His music is brilliant and I’m sure that I will be writing a review for one of his albums soon (don’t just listen to The Encounter’s music, though. Follow him on Twitter because he also happens to be one of the funnier darkwave producers on social media).
Another breakdown occurs at 1:35 and Kuklinski’s words come back. We get a chilling tale of how Kuklinski would let his victims live for a half hour longer if they wanted to pray to God to change their circumstances. God, as Kuklinski points out, never came to change their fate.
Listen, I know this is darkwave, but this track is DARK. Is this the start of a new genre? Darkest-wave? I think that’s it. Terrordyne, you’ve done it. You’ve invented a new sub genre within a sub genre. Darkestwave is the official soundtrack to all things that make me pants shitting-ly terrified.
At 1:53 the rhythm in the bass changes to the classic 16th note rest followed by three 16th notes rhythm that we heard in the previous track. There’s some very cool sound design in the synth playing above the bass. I can’t quite place my finger on where I’ve heard this sound before, but it’s a classic, flanged sound that’s perfect for darkwave. The screaming synth works so well in this part as I’m sure Kuklinski’s life involved a lot of screaming. If there was a name for this synth preset it would be called “Iceman wave.”
The synthesized marimba heard earlier in the track comes back around 2:29. The music is heavier than the intro now, and the synth marimba adds to it perfectly. This is interesting since I wouldn’t normally associate the marimba with heavy music, but if there’s anybody out there that can make a marimba sound heavy as fuck, it’s gotta be Terrordyne (or The Encounter, for that matter. Hats off to both of you for this section, it’s brilliant).
This marimba arpeggio plays until the outro. Kuklinski’s words come back, and all of the instruments cut out save for one: A synth that hammers out its chorus/reverb/delay soaked arpeggio as the track fades to a close.
You see? This is why I try to be nice to people. You never know when someone’s bad side is actually the worst side of all time and if you end up on it the only good news is that you won’t be around to piss anyone else off ever again.
This track begins with some rather interesting ambient noise. It whooshes and glitches in a mysterious way, which sounds a bit like a cassette tape being slowed down and then sped up. It continues for about 30 seconds until a reverse cymbal hits, bringing order to the chaos.
A drum kit enters, putting a beat to the mysterious synth pad above it. I love the sound design of this synth. How do you get a synth pad to sound like that, exactly? It sounds like one of those choir-type presets on an old 80’s E-MU Emulator II, only fantastically glitched, sped up, and then slowed down. Very cool.
TOMS HIT 45 seconds in and a rad bassline appears onto the scene. This bassline has the coolest rhythm of any of the basslines I have heard thus far on this album. It’s wonderfully syncopated and adds a solid groove to the ambient synth pad playing above it.
Around 1:02 an eerie, detuned square wave lead fades in. It blends in nicely with the atmosphere that the equally eerie choir synth pad established earlier. TOMS HIT at 1:16 and the drums pick up in tempo. It’s a seamless transition that works really well, from half time to double time. Another arpeggio is added—a very cleverly designed pluck that fits the arpeggiated bass perfectly. Sure, the atmosphere is dark and foreboding, but it’s also very easy to dance to.
I think that this track kind of represents the best of what darkwave does for me: The genre creates a soundtrack to dance to during a hypothetical, nightmarish, retro/80’s inspired, dystopian future in which the machines that mankind created now rule the earth. We’re all on the run from killer robots, but at the same time we still have dance parties and we all still listen to cassette tapes regardless of how high tech everything else around us is.
A breakdown occurs at 2:03 when the drums cut out and that cool sounding arpeggiated pluck that was introduced earlier comes back to really shine. There are a bunch of layers here that add a considerable amount of interest to the music: A square wave lead plays along with a synth pad that is accentuated by a low, buzzy, sawtooth synth. The arpeggiated pluck here is very reminiscent of the theme to “Knight Rider.”
That’s right, in addition to “Synthronicity” being a solid dance track, it also doubles as high quality driving music. Playing this tune on my car stereo while driving made me feel like my Nissan Versa has high tech capabilities that I can assure you it does not have.
Seriously, the stereo in my four wheeled shitbox can’t even play MP3’s. I had to burn this album onto a CD in order for it to play in my car. Retro!
After the Knight Rider section a breakdown occurs and the main theme of “Synthronicity” is brought back. This theme does not last for long as another breakdown occurs shortly after, which brings the Knight Rider pluck back to the forefront. Another melody is introduced after this breakdown, carried by a classic sounding sawtooth lead synth. The choir synth fades in and out here, heightening the drama. TOMS HIT and most of the instruments cut out, leaving another synth pluck to solo, and it does so with different sound design from the Knight Rider-esque pluck featured previously. The choir synth and this pluck play out the rest of this track, bringing it to a satisfying conclusion.
Another dark sounding choir synth pad kicks off “Survival.” A piercing synth stab cuts through the choir as a detuned melody plays softly in the background. This intro shifts gears as soon as a low, resonance drenched, filter swept synth blast hits and the drums enter.
The syncopated bassline that enters here showcases Terrordyne’s ability to construct the perfect darkwave bassline. Both the rhythm of this bassline and the sound design on it are emblematic of the genre. Minor chords ring out as a delay infused, staccato synth with a short release plays along. Another one of Terrordyne’s signature horror movie soundtrack melodies fades in. More low synth blasts hit. There’s a killer on the loose and I feel like I’m on the run. As I listen to “Survival” I can’t help but get the feeling that this track should have been in the newest season of American Horror Story 1984.
A melody with more sustain is introduced later in the track as a sharp contrast to the staccato synth heard previously. This tune features what I believe to be the best melody composition on the entire EP. There are melodies coming in and out from different angles in the mix, played by a number of synths with varying sound design.
The delay heavy staccato synth heard earlier is reintroduced at the breakdown that occurs around 2:19. The sound design on this synth is reminiscent of the kind of staccato strings you would hear on the soundtrack to “Psycho,” only delivered via an electronic instrument with digital delay. This synth is slightly detuned, making it the electronic equivalent to the high pitched minor seconds heard in the aforementioned Hitchcock classic.
The drums are completely absent for a while in this section, and it’s a nice change of pace from the relatively short breakdowns heard in the previous tracks. There is some quality melody work in this section as well, as two synths carry the melody: The staccato, delay laden synth and a synth that delivers a more legato, sustained melody. The dark choir synth heard earlier is present here as well, creating a ghostly harmonic backdrop to the leads.
A quote from, bar none, my favorite (and, in my opinion, the most criminally underrated) George Romero movie, “Day of the Dead,” sounds out: “This ain’t a goddamn field trip, people, this is a FUCKING WAR!” Oh, Captain Rhodes, you are incorrigible! You better keep an eye on Bub, buddy. I feel like that zombie’s marksmanship skills are a little more pronounced than the zombies you’re used to.
The drums and another one of Terrordyne’s signature badass basslines return shortly after this epic movie quote. At this point I could not enjoy this track any more than I do. This is solid post apocalyptic/living in a bunker music right here. If the nuclear arsenal of this world ever gets unleashed against the earth then this should be your jam. Stockpile this EP in your bomb shelter. You will have all the time in the world now to get down to this banger in your underground bunker while you patiently wait out the 30+ year half-life of the nuclear fallout.
The synth chimes that kick in at the beginning of “Rapture…” Where have I heard these before? Probably a ton of horror movies. It’s a classic sound that will always have a place in darkwave. A swirling, brassy synth pad accompanies these chimes as I start singing “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…” A heavy, low, flanged sawtooth bass with white noise added to it hits and suddenly I’m scared to fall asleep.
After the intro one of the most common sounds in all of synthwave enters: A kick, a snare, and a 16th note rest followed by three 16th notes bassline.
I have nothing against this bassline. It’s common in synthwave for a reason: It works very well. It’s a trope that is, at this point, here to stay, for better or for worse. I can’t complain about it, since it is part and parcel of the genre at this point. It would be like complaining about ska playing chords on the offbeat. Yeah, it’s ska. What did you expect?
While this idea is not unique, it is well used here, with the bass having a wah wah pedal sort of effect on it that adds to the overall feel of the track. The bass here is layered, as it sounds like two synths with different sound design playing the same bassline. It’s a nice touch even if the rhythm of the bass is what I’ve come to expect from many a synthwave/darkwave track.
A snare roll introduces the main melody a little after a minute into the track. Both the melody and the bass have a nice, pulsating feel to them as they are carried forward by the drums. Chimes and a pad play off each other around 1:27. The chord changes here are very cool as they work off of the pedal point that the bass hits.
A lead synth weaves in and out while the bass drones underneath it. The lead is then removed from the mix, leaving only the bass and drums once again. These parts are minimalistic but they work quite well. Sometimes the heaviest riffs are the simplest ones, a la the main guitar riff to “Walk” by Pantera. Is it just a couple of notes and a heavy drum beat? Sometimes that’s all you need.
A new melody enters at 2:04. Darkwave xylophone! I love it. A countermelody from another synth plays off of the xylophone here. How did Terrordyne get these melodies to work over the bass ostinato? As much as the bassline is static, there are a number of synths added to this track that simultaneously increase the tension of the music but also serve to generate interest over a bass that is unchanging.
A breakdown occurs around 2:28 that introduces another melody. The sound design on this lead is decidedly soft, counteracting the heavy music that preceded it. Then the low, flanged, sawtooth synth bass heard earlier in the track re-enters the mix, and suddenly the softness of the synth playing the lead is obliterated. Here the bass injects darkness back into the track, making the soft lead suddenly adopt a more sinister quality to it.
At 3:05 “Rapture” completely changes gears as the drums and bass suddenly pick up steam. The bass is now playing straight eighth notes, bringing more movement to the music. The pitch of the bass is also more varied here, in direct opposition to the previous three minutes of the track. The bassline here works well with the melody that plays above it. Again, this melody has a very soft sound to it, but that doesn’t make the music soft at all.
More counter melodies enter over the lively bassline in this section. The bass and drums cut out around 3:55 and we’re left with these melodies playing off of each other. A synth brass lead plays against the soft lead and a soft choir pad. It’s a smooth ending—a dark, chilling outro that creates a nice contrast to the overall heavyness of this track.
So, what are my final thoughts on Rebirth? For starters, and I think this goes without saying given my enthusiasm in talking about these tracks, Rebirth is a solid darkwave EP. It checks all the boxes of what the darkwave genre promises to deliver. Is Rebirth the soundtrack to a horror movie? An old school 80’s slasher pic? A future dystopian film where robots hunt mankind to the brink of extinction? The soundtrack to the coming zombie apocalypse? Yes, it is all of those things, and you can dance to it. Put Rebirth in your shitty, beat up 1993 Ford Escort and watch in awe as this EP transforms your lemon into a vehicle from Mad Max. You are now free to roam about the wastelands in search of food, water, and gas.
You can listen to Terrordyne’s Rebirth via the following media outlets: