Album Review: Mega Drive – Seas of Infinity

It’s been three years since Mega Drive, one of darksynth‘s founding fathers, contributed a full-length album to the genre. The musical landscape has shifted considerably in the time since then, and from the early notes of Seas of Infinity, it’s evident that Mega Drive has also changed. The new album is a grittier, more experimental production with a focus that points away from the center of the retro synth revival. It’s worth saying this up front: Seas of Infinity is not a synthwave album. Mega Drive has always featured coarse textures and industrial-like percussion that placed the music on the fringe of the genre, but the songs often retained the bright melodies and slightly melancholic bit of nostalgia that is at the heart of synthwave. With Seas of Infinity, the sound has evolved beyond the threshold of retrowave music and cannot be properly classified within its boundaries.

The album starts out strong with the haunting title track, a downtempo piece with a carefully understated melody pacing above a throbbing ambient backdrop. It’s the perfect choice to open the recording, and the anticipation it develops pays off immediately with the ferocious follow-up, “Godspeed Us to the Stars.” The familiar Mega Drive sound is here, though the level of detail in it surpasses anything that has come before. “Godspeed Us to the Stars” feels like stepping into an unregulated, underground manufacturing plant dedicated to post-apocalyptic war machines in the year 3039. Bass blasts and rapid fire melodies assault the listener from all sides, pounding out the track’s first half in a musical maelstrom that miraculously never falls into discord. It’s a brilliant creation that cements its genius with a calculated break just past the midpoint. The relatively spacious second half offers reprieve from the audio assault and functions as a perfect counterpoint to the song’s opening section.

Sadly, the immense and staggeringly talented introduction to the album stands as its brightest moment by a long shot. “Godspeed Us to the Stars” leads into the murky and lifeless “Biohacker,” which is followed by the industrial noise of “Junkhead.” Most people who come to the album expecting classic Mega Drive or dark synthwave in general will find “Junkhead” difficult to classify as music. It’s not dissatisfying on its own terms, but its rigid beat and absent melodies feel more like the start of a side project than a meaningful contribution to a Mega Drive release. The middle of the album is occupied by the pleasing but forgettable “No Fate” and “Off / World,” both of which begin well enough but have too little diversity in their song structures to make them worth revisiting. The two songs sandwich the album’s first non-song, “Initializing,” which is actually the intro to “Off / World” that has inexplicably been given its own spot on the tracklist.

Of all the entries on Seas of Infinity, “Run the Code” is perhaps the most reminiscent of earlier Mega Drive releases, featuring the familiar rough bass textures and melodic elements that are hallmarks of the artist’s style. Although the song mainly sticks to a single beat for its duration, there are enough subtle shifts in percussion and melody to keep it interesting. The song offers a glimpse at the greatness that opened the album, though an unvarying song structure and overindulgent six-minute run time prevent it from reaching the same heights.

A second non-song, “Cesaro Totality,” appears late in the album and is hard to accept as anything more than filler. “Visceral Grit ‘92” lands in the same pile with “Biohacker,” providing an unremarkable collection of rough-hewn textures and murky melodies that don’t linger in the memory. Mega Drive concludes the album with “In Dreams,” a kind of coarse dreamwave track with a gentle beat and a pleasing melody that is enticing for a moment but rapidly grows stale from repetition. The musical portion of the song runs for over seven minutes with minimal deviation in its formula, and it’s easy to become jaded by it well before the end of its first playthrough. The song’s problems are compounded by an additional seven minutes of fire crackling and waves caressing a shoreline. It’s a bizarre choice that negates whatever redeeming qualities the overly long musical portion had to begin with, leaving two or three minutes of listenable music on a song that is nearly 15 minutes long.

By its conclusion, the album feels like a single, or at best an EP, that’s been artificially stretched to look like a full-length album. Several tracks lead the listener in a lifeless loop for their duration, a pair of non-songs inflate the track count, and an unjustifiably long closing piece trails off into seven minutes of ambient sound. The album’s seemingly gracious 55-minute running length provides around 42 minutes of actual music, half of which feels like filler and unnecessary repetition. The disappointment of the overall recording is even more stark when held against the brilliance of the opening moments. Mega Drive is a superbly gifted songwriter, but that talent is squandered on half-hearted pieces and nonstarters that fall well short of their potential. Despite the engaging cover art, enticing album title, and gripping introduction, Seas of Infinity turns out to be a shallow body of music that can be appreciated without ever leaving the shore.

Rating: 47 / 100

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