What do you get when you combine outrun, chiptune, and metal? The answer is no joke; in fact, it’s one of the most innovative and successful creations within the broader synthwave genre to date. Gloom Influx’s humbly titled First LP takes elements from several different genres, melts them down, and alchemizes them into something massive, beautiful, and utterly unique. Although its largest contributing musical styles remain identifiable throughout the recording, the music is not simply a mashup of different sounds. First LP is a carefully considered and well-executed evolution of its influences, delivering attractively hybrid creations across eight tracks, each one with its own personality and memorable qualities.
Gloom Influx’s musical roots are diverse and numerous, and this fact is immediately apparent on the recording. Modern music from dark ambient, melodic death metal, and industrial, as well as older releases from ‘80s pop and traditional metal, are all cited as factors in Gloom Influx’s remarkable identity. The most obvious genres in the mix are synthwave, video game soundtracks, and modern metal, though the combination shines through in a unique and surprisingly effective way.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the genre concoction is First LP’s metal element, which has more in common with industrial-metal and electronic-metal fusions of the ‘90s and ‘00s than with traditional forms of the genre. Fittingly, instead of attempting a straightforward integration with electric guitar, Gloom Influx has taken a synth bass, injected it with steroid-like distortion, and applied it to the songwriting as if it were the rhythm guitar in a metal band. The result is every bit as successful as it is eccentric.
As industrial and dark electro acts have been proving for decades, mixing heavily distorted electric guitar with synthesizers can go one of two ways, and it often turns out badly. For every track like X-Fusion’s “Bloody Revenge” that hits a perfect combination, there’s half a dozen songs like Carpenter Brut‘s “Monday Hunt” that fall flat on their face. The percentage of failures within synthwave seems especially high, perhaps owing to the relative incompatibility of metal with the nu disco and house roots of early synthwave music. However, Gloom Influx’s First LP provides a new and archetypal example of a well-made fusion of the two genres.
The surprising and casually brilliant takeaway from the album is that the music doesn’t literally need to have metal guitar in it to feel metal. Unlike many other efforts within synthwave and darksynth, First LP’s soundscape remains crystal clear and attractive, free from the mud being churned out by most other artists hoping to add an aggressive edge. This is thanks in part to the use of electric guitar as a supplement, not a primary part of the instrumentation. The fact that First LP’s synthwave influences lean more closely to classic outrun than to darksynth makes this successful metal integration especially impressive and remarkable. While modern producers like Neon Droid work metal into the darker, evolved sounds of cybersynth with admirable results, few have made it work with outrun’s classically bright and melodic personality.
The unmistakable blend of genres kicks off on “Entropy” with a classic disco-infused outrun synth melody, but it’s abruptly joined by the 10-ton synth bass rhythm that begins raining down aural steel with its impressively dense and rough-hewn character. The sharp contrast of the cheery melodies with the wall-shaking bass is actually disconcerting at first, though once the ears have a chance to adjust, the contrast is immensely satisfying. It’s like a food that’s spicy, sweet, and sour all at once. It activates every bit of the eardrums and alternately soothes and pummels them for a thrilling listening experience.
The song smartly withdraws the synth bass at times for a reprieve from its coarse, grinding ways to focus on the attractive synthwave melodies, and each time the bass re-emerges it forms a fresh crater in the listener’s skull. The songwriting’s impressive stature owes a huge debt to the production and mastering, which are nearly perfect. The lead melodies sing out confidently, trumpeting their notes from the ramparts while the bass synth delivers cannon blasts with a resounding roar down below. Very few albums that could be called synthwave are capable of rattling the windows in a home like Gloom Influx’s debut.
“Transient” takes a different approach, opening with a steady, casual beat accented with chimes and symphonic melodies. When the song opens into the main section, the synth leads notably venture into the realm of chiptune and retro video game music. The bass plays more of a support role this time, occasionally joining in with a galloping rhythm that accents the bright synth tones. “Afterimage” follows with the recording’s most traditional darksynth track, recalling some of the pounding, uptempo pieces from the mid-2010s that shaped the genre’s identity, though still with Gloom Influx’s unmistakable combination of sounds.
“Obsidiane” is perhaps First LP’s strongest track, and the contrasting array of light and dark tones, clean and gritty textures, is never more satisfying than it is here. Gorgeous, crystalline synth tones open the track over an ominous bell toll and synthetic choir before Gloom Influx’s signature synth bass enters to grind up the audioscape. An electric guitar solo soon follows for even greater diversity, and the artist masterfully phases each piece in and out across the song for moments that are alternately casual and lighthearted, dark and brooding. Even with poor execution, the song would be deserving of praise for its uniqueness and willingness to explore new ideas, though the faultless production and technical delivery make “Obsidiane” an absolute gem.
The back half of the album is scarcely less satisfying than the first, and it continues to offer a diverse range of songwriting styles. “Anodizer” takes another shot at traditional darksynth in the vein of Carpenter Brut and Perturbator circa 2014, though several breaks into sparse rhythm sections packed with chiptune melodies and bright, chime-like tones puts a fresh spin on the idea. “Checkpoint” uses a classic outrun approach as its foundation, layering strong chiptune melodies over the top and leaning on a rare electric guitar rhythm for support, all with the same clarity as the rest of the recording.
Each track has plenty of surprises in store; First LP is never common or predictable, though by the album’s end it becomes easy to hope for a sparse, atmospheric piece from Gloom Influx to break up the many well executed thumpers that populate the recording. Unfortunately, when such a song arrives in the form of “Metropolis,” it proves to be much less exciting than its counterparts. The song settles into a throbbing rhythm with a gentle melody rolling over the top, and though it’s not unlikable, its melodic notes never manage to entice or stick in the memory. A sax solo provides the most enjoyable aspect of the track, though it does so with relatively few interesting supportive features. The main section of the song continues to pulsate with little deviation for the almost-five-minute running time, and the end result feels distinctly less imaginative and exciting than everything that precedes it.
Although First LP finishes with more of a sizzle than a bang, the disappointment of the last track does little to take away from the album’s numerous strengths. The high degree of ambition and innovation on Gloom Influx’s debut full-length is rivaled in its execution across seven stellar tracks, each one worthy of high volume. The excellent songwriting consistently pairs engaging rhythms with attractive melodies and cements them with crystal clear production for one of the most remarkable recordings to date within synthwave and its closely related styles.
First LP is beautiful and monstrous, cheerful and sinister, and it does what many have failed to do by combining seemingly incongruous music styles into a cohesive whole without contradicting itself or creating a murky disaster. The artist’s obvious familiarity with a diverse selection of music is at the heart of the album’s earnest and successful integration of atypical elements into old school, melodic outrun, and it sets a new precedent for what’s possible in the genre. What do you get when you combine outrun, chiptune, and metal? The answer will surprise you.
Want more info on the synthwave genre and its evolutions? Check out What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition
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