Hail Satan & heavy synths.
When it comes to synthwave, you’ve got the bopping and moody love tales that Gunship creates, an artist who is basically the synthwave equivalent of Ready Player One by this point. In other areas, you've got the towering instrumental and incredible cosmic sounds of someone like StarSpawn. You've also got ground-breaking groups like Ulver and The Black Queen borrowing various timbres and ideas from synthwave but also injecting their own feeling, moods and synth-pop ideas into the style. Then there's artists like my beloved The Midnight, who are all about providing melodically romantic soundtracks to your late night drives with screaming saxophone melodies, buttery smooth vocals, massive hooks, and bright ‘80s guitar leads with some stunning results. Yet beneath all of the shine and gloss that synthwave so often provides, there sleeps darker and heavier artists that brood and gestate deeper into the shadows, crossover artists such as American producer GosT.
Sitting somewhere between the darkness and extremity of black metal bands and the crazed, blood-pumping electronic sounds of Tokyo Rose, Perturbator, Dredd, and Carpenter Brut is GosT’s menacing third album of underworld worship, ‘Possessor’. Across these 11 satanic-themed and dancefloor destroying pieces, the Texas-based slasherwave king rages at his most violent yet. While this new sermon does borrow plenty of aspects from the likes of your John Carpenter scores and your Goblin discography's, this sure as shit ain’t no cuddly Stranger Things soundtrack. No fucking way son! This recent sacrificial offering to all things occult comes from a blackened and eviler depth; a place where leather-wearing corpse paint lovers dance under violent strobes of neon lights, pounding assaults of blasting drum machines, mammoth walls of churning low-end, and heavy synths. Straight up, ‘Possessor’ is just a really solid artistic blend of experimental, black metal, synthwave, classic French house, and horror film scores; with GosT balancing each element out very well.
On the synthwave side of town, there's plenty of moments showcasing slick, modern production techniques and hooky synth sounds. Namely found during chapters like ‘Sigil’ (complete with GosT's own deep and sultry vocals), the groovy and insanely well-produced '80s slasherflick-like soundtrack ‘The Prowler', the mind-tapping techno-beats, wailing synths, and percussive electro stabs of 'Shiloh's Lament', and the twinkly keys and dark synth-pop of late-game cut, ‘Malum’. In other instances, the backing synth licks and melodic flares heard behind the chaos and sheer black metal punishments of ‘Garruth’ help to breathe some actual daylight into this record's abyss.
However, as stated, synthwave is just one-half of GosT's ritual here, as extreme metal also takes up residence in this possessed work.
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[caption id="attachment_1101978" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The man himself. Like many synthwave producers, GosT's identity remains a closely kept secret. [/caption]
Hacking right down to the bone is the lashing, aggro and heavy-hitting punches from album standout ‘Beliar' and the distorted nihilism of ‘Legion’, a devilish track that offers strong nods towards both black metal and doom.
The former explodes right away with cacophonous blast-beats and sampled backing choirs, before transitioning through some massive grooves built off grimy low-end and smaller flickers of melody and harmony. What cements this song as the record's highest peak, though, is how right in the middle eight these zorby synths hover above a simple but air-tight drum beat as GosT slowly works into the mix these high-register strings and chopped-up vocalisations and my god, the way the song ebbs and flows between these bars and how it builds from there onwards is superb and it gets me every single damn time. Then the latter track dominates as many corners and cracks as possible. What with its impenetrable bass lines, sluggish percussion, droning chords, piercing and throaty black metal shrieks, these eerie-as-fuck virtual strings that wouldn't go amiss in an old SNES game, and overwhelmingly thick musical layers; which all create an overbearing but suitable feeling of one's soul being dragged down into the bowels of hell.
Another solid track that achieves a similar end is '16 a.M.’ After the bewildering onslaught of triggered metal drumming that begins the song that no human could play consistently, you’re treated to some striking synth attacks, filter effects and sharp-as-fuck edits that you’d see from a Blood Carpenter remix. (*cough* Hotline Miami). While the track's lead synth melody constantly rising and falling and cutting in and out of the mix like GosT just discovered the Variant Audiosuite plug-in on Pro Tools can be a little distracting at first, the overall song is an equally abrasive and well-composed synthwave piece. Especially due to the ludicrous drop come the last third where its harsh, ribcage-rattling low-end has been aggressively side-chained to a savage kick drum for a mental gate open-closing effect that makes for one of the most insane hardcore-electronic breakdowns I've heard in yonks. Justice, you'd better watch your fucking backs.
Other times, GosT also does a great job of scarily capturing the atmosphere and mood of the 1980's American "Satanic panic" period with freaky but perfectly-placed TV media samples discussing missing children, cults, religion, grisly murders and Satanists that segue different songs between one another or different sections of individual songs. As for the album's opening title song, it's actually all built around these random static sounds, minor piano melodies and these samples of old news reports from the aforementioned moral panic era of the late 20th-century; setting the thematic tone for the ten songs to come perfectly so. Aside from maybe showing that GosT sure isn’t taking this record's Satanic theatricality all that seriously, these samples do help to nicely break up the record's flow; creating ghostly bridges between many of the heavier and oppressive sonic exorcisms housed within ‘Possessor’.
Yet while this record does so much so well, there are two weak and ugly miss-steps that it does sadly make over its 40-minute runtime.
The first infected limb is the background noise of 'Loudas Deceit', an entirely forgettable and rather uninteresting mid-album instrumental that not only slows the pace of the LP right down but also carries zero fan-fare in either of GosT's musical extremes. And that final audio sample from some random TV expose into the nature of exorcisms? Yeah, that could've just been incorporated into the end of the previous track - 'Sigil' - more than fine enough and the record wouldn't suffer as a result. The second hole that ‘Possessor’ stumbles down into comes in the twisted shape of the record’s finale, ‘Commandment’. The closer begins with hollow church bells ringing out and the distant cries of crows can be heard before it bursts into fist-pumping techno beats and death-mask melodies. From there, an awful pumping-like effect sucks the song up and down like a broken vacuum and all impact is lost. After this sloppy intro, the middle section of 'Commandment' regurgitates the surging, poppy synthwave that songs like 'The Prowler' did infinitely better before. Then after an airy piano-bridge section, we get dropped back into a final foray of screaming and blast beats before ringing church bells close out the track. And it all feels really messy; with everything lacking the methodical madness that earlier, stronger tracks like 'Garruth' and 'Beliar' summoned forth so wonderfully.
GosT said himself that this new album would be a “cross between Anaal Nathrakh and Justice,” and the producer was most certainly right on the money with that self-assessment. Yet ‘Possessor’ succeeds at being far greater than just an "X+Y=Z" sonic equation; excelling at creating a damned solid bridge between punishing extreme metal and strong strobes of glittering synthwave whether separately or when put together. Personally, while I am much more likely to reach for The Black Queen, new Ulver, Gunship or The Midnight tunes before I throw on a GosT track, it's comforting and impressive to see that a resurged style like synthwave can reach out to other genres and assimilate into their creases well. In that regard, it's artists like GosT (and even guys like Dredd) who will hopefully continue to synthwave extra legs to stand on by experiment with new sounds and fresh ideas.
'Possessor' is out now and it's pretty good. Initiate yourself below: