Darksynth evolved rapidly away from its roots in 2017, and Lazerpunk’s newest album Death & Glory makes it clear the genre’s transformation has only just begun. As one of the first definitive releases of 2018, the album maintains darksynth’s trajectory toward coarse, experimental effects and elaborate, pounding percussion fueled by brutal dubstep and coated with ambient horror, though it does very little to expand darksynth’s traditionally limited songwriting approach. Fans of the heavy rhythmic sounds the genre is trending toward are likely to find plenty to enjoy on the release, though it represents modern darksynth’s shortcomings every bit as well as its strengths. Despite excellent sound production, great atmosphere, and a healthy attitude toward experimentation, Death & Glory is restricted by repetitive compositions and far too few memorable moments.
Lazerpunk has earned a loyal following within darksynth and the broader synthwave genre, though the recognition given to artists like Perturbator, Daniel Deluxe, Gost, and Dan Terminus have escaped him to date. That seems likely to change with his third release, Death & Glory, which is a more polished and focused effort than its predecessors with clear ambition in its musical approach. Notably, the music is denser and more violent, and it’s also a significant departure from the traditional synthwave style heard on his past releases. The attractive cover and immaculate sound production on Death & Glory give it high curb appeal, and it frequently overpowers and outshines many of its contemporaries through its immense power. In a live performance, the songs would excel, though the album’s undeniable ability to pound and grind is mired in a tendency toward monotony, and the lack of compelling song structures reduces Death & Glory‘s home listening experience to a hammering affair that wears out its welcome too soon.
Things begin well with “Ego Death,” an entry that perfectly embodies Lazerpunk’s new musical approach. The pronounced and clear severance of darksynth away from the synthwave genre on 2017 albums like New Model, Automated Refrain, and Non Paradisi is maintained here with a dramatic emphasis on modern EDM rhythms over vintage pop melodies. There isn’t a hook in sight, and only a few seconds of “Ego Death” feature any kind of melodic notes. Instead, Lazerpunk drives his percussive elements into the listener’s skull with jackhammer-like force, and the diverse effects and textures of the music make for impressive listening on a good pair of headphones or large speakers. The excellent sound production adds commendable size and depth to the delivery, and playing the songs at high volume could cause weaker mortals to flee from its monumental stature. As an opening track, it perfectly presents the album’s intentions, and it serves as a suitable lead-in to the recording’s finest effort, “Speedracer.”
“Speedracer” is a collaborative effort with Quixotic, and it displays the full potential of Lazerpunk’s aggressive sound production. It opens patiently with bare rhythmic structures and fattens up with admirably coarse textures that feel like they could grate up home speakers like soft cheese. Despite the song’s intensity, it is deceptively subtle, casually sprinkling crystalline melodic tones over the top of the rhythm near the midpoint before cutting away to a roaring, isolated synth lead. The notes of the break explode dramatically out of the dense instrumentation before diving back into the carefully woven composition for an exciting and unexpected twist in the song’s progression.
It’s a beautiful and frequently brutal ride, and perhaps not coincidentally, the song has the most traditional synthwave sound of anything on the recording. If one were to hazard to guess, Lazerpunk’s familiarity with the established synthwave style may have helped “Speedracer” succeed over his ambitious but risky ventures into newer musical territory on the rest of the album.
Whatever the reasons for the merits of “Speedracer,” the excitement doesn’t last long. Death & Glory immediately devolves into one of the album’s weakest efforts on a collaborative creation with Daniel Deluxe. The inventiveness and inspired touches of “Speedracer” are nowhere to be found on “Digital Demon,” which plods along like more of a lobotomized imp than a full-fledged demon. In contrast with the power and detail of the opening songs, the unyielding pace and unvarying structure feel apathetic, and its momentary breaks into atmospheric horror are as similarly bland as the throbbing beat that replaces them. The song is relatively inoffensive, and it never exactly encourages the listener to skip past it, but there is nothing about the anonymous blob of bass beats and rattling percussive accent notes that grab a listener’s attention or linger in the memory once “Digital Demon” has concluded.
By the start of the fourth track, Death & Glory seems poised to go in one of two directions: toward the impressive and detailed music that opened the album, or toward the moribund throb of “Digital Demon” and the glut of similarly soulless darksynth that has emerged in the back half of the 2010s. Sadly, the immediate answer is the second one, with the next several songs delivering repetitive compositions that squander Lazerpunk’s excellent production skills and musical might. Tracks like “Power” and “Warmachine” have no clear musical destination. Their purpose is only to pound and grind, and the immense artfulness of their sound production has no reciprocal voice in their song construction, causing the middle of the album to turn into a marshland of churning electronic music.
Even artists who allow themselves to work with strong melodies frequently have troubles keeping their music interesting and memorable, and by eliminating the melodic toolset from his workshop, Lazerpunk has taken on the distinct challenge of finding other ways to compel listeners. It’s a notable handicap, and unfortunately, Death & Glory’s rhythm-oriented tracks have trouble establishing distinctions between themselves as a result. Any of the music can be exciting for a minute or two, but the repetitive structures and grinding beats quickly become burdened by their similarities, and listening to Death & Glory in its entirety becomes more of a labor than a love.
Many of the entries on the recording exemplify these shortcomings, including “Poison.” The song builds rapidly from a short intro into its full form, and like everything on the album, the initial impact is impressive. The crisp percussion and fat bass tones have a near-physical force behind them, and it’s almost impossible not to nod or sway along. A third of the way into the track, Lazerpunk smartly backs off the intensity of the main section for a break, stripping down the music into a quiet intermission before launching back into the song’s full form. However, as the main section begins to pound away once more, the predictability of it induces a certain amount of flavor fatigue. A second, different break arrives shortly later, again essentially stripping down the music for a short break from the insistent beat. When Lazerpunk yet again launches into the main section, it’s hard to feel excited about it. “Poison” gives the listener everything it’s got at just 37 seconds into the music, and no new or exciting elements arrive to sustain it for the rest of its four-minute running time. It’s a one-dimensional creation that is sadly better at sounding impressive than being impressive.
“Rampage” follows on the heels of “Poison” with an almost identical, but even more heavy-handed design, this time revealing its full form within the first two seconds. Like “Poison,” the song scales back twice, but the breaks aren’t inherently interesting. They serve only as a reprieve from the main section’s throbbing dubsteppery, and when the music returns to the fullness of its grinding, crunching ways, much of its power feels wasted. Unlike “Speedracer,” there are no exciting and inspired touches to rescue the song from its own headbanging monotony. The boisterous and imposingly loud tone of “Rampage,” and by extension, all of Death & Glory, has complete confidence in its delivery, though one soon begins to realize that beneath all the chest-thumping the album has surprisingly little to say.
Death & Glory joins recent releases from artists like Perturbator and Dan Terminus in their ambitious push toward EDM-fueled rhythmic darksynth, though it retains all of those albums’ shortcomings. The stylistic schism between them and creators who follow a different evolution of the original darksynth sound has grown wide. In contrast with cybersynth artists like Astral Tales, Isidor, and 3Force, Lazerpunk’s latest release is a coarse, brutal, and uncomplicated offering. Modern darksynth fans who are able to look past the genre’s deep-rooted monotony should seek out Death & Glory for a few spins, or better yet, see a live show, as Lazerpunk rivals and often surpasses many of his contemporaries. However, no matter how attractive and riveting the sounds of Death & Glory are when the album begins, the lack of compositional imagination and memorable moments compresses their potential into a Hulk-like state: powerful, but regrettably one-dimensional.