Album Review: Shredder 1984 – Dystopian Future

Shredder 1984’s second full-length album is one of the most expertly written and perfectly executed dark synthwave albums released to date. It takes the cyberpunk themes of past releases like Mega Drive’s 198XAD and OGRE’s 195 and advances them with more aggressive songwriting and a stronger incorporation of metal music, kicking down the walls on the edges of the synthwave genre and staking its claim to exciting new territory. In terms of quality, Dystopian Future is frequently top-notch, and together with its unique sound the album represents a landmark effort that demands to be heard by fans of synthwave’s darker half.

Those who are familiar with Shredder 1984’s Synth City album from earlier in 2017 may be surprised to hear words like “perfect” associated with Dystopian Future, particularly since the two were released mere months apart. After all, Synth City was a relatively unremarkable release; the sound production was muddy, the melodies were forgettable, and the song structures were unimaginative. Incredibly, Shredder 1984 has completely eclipsed that release with the follow-up, improving on his past work in every possible way.

Like Gloom Influx, Shredder 1984 has recognized and seized the opportunity to incorporate metal into dark synthwave music without using an electric guitar. With a touch of ingenuity and a mountain of skillful execution, Shredder 1984 turns his synth bass into an axe, wielding it as a rhythm guitar with praiseworthy results. The synth bass is a perfect complement to Shredder 1984’s particular evolution of synthwave music, and it’s completely free of the aural mud produced in Carpenter Brut’s attempt at a fusion of darksynth and nu metal. In contrast, Dystopian Future’s production and mastering are spot-on, lending the music a crisp tone that is satisfyingly deep and crunchy.

Notably, the album’s metal approach recalls ‘80s old school metal more than almost any other creations within and around the synthwave genre. These types of comparisons are inherently strained due to the electronic instrumentation at work, though it doesn’t feel like a leap to compare Dystopian Future to Overkill’s 1989 masterpiece The Years of Decay, with ferocious riffs balanced by ambient horror and downtempo, thumping sections guided by attractive melodies. Shredder 1984’s album is also packed with the same unrestrained energy and excitement of the New Jersey thrashers’ classic. It may never push into the same level of speed and detail as true old school thrash, but its heart is in the same place.

Of course, Shredder 1984 didn’t arrive at his name by accident, and sitting prominently within the mix of synthwave melodies, old school metal rhythms, and darksynth horror is the gleaming influence of Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game soundtrack from 1989. The soundtrack’s frenetic pace and its fat, coarse synth tones, themselves modeled after ‘80s metal, are plain to hear in Dystopian Future’s ancestry, and they give Shredder 1984 a relatable sound in spite of his music’s aggressive disposition. The blend of influences on the album remains consistently engaging, summoning up childhood nostalgia while remaining utterly unique and specific to the late 2010s.

Dystopian Future wastes no time grabbing the listener’s ears with a fiery and perfectly chosen opener, “Samurai Cyber Punk,” which launches into a savage synth bass rhythm with gorgeous clean melodies to open the album. Alternately patient and unrestrained, the song moves between its sections with surprising grace, always pressing ahead with complete confidence. The music delves into a methodical, pounding version of itself for the final act and then takes its exit after just three brutal minutes. The artist’s willingness to offer his best moments in short supply bolsters the song’s value immeasurably, ensuring each section remains fresh and worthy of revisiting.

“Life’s a Glitch” follows up on the impressive opener with a slightly more cerebral approach, introducing ambient horror tones as the lead-in to a thunderous bass beat with succinct synth riffs. In many ways, the song feels like a full-length interlude, but the patience of the main section pays off each time it opens into the rumbling melodic section that follows. The satisfying interplay works well on its own, and the song’s status as a sort of intermission is an effective precursor to the onslaught of the following track.

“Mechanical Doppleganger” is arguably the album’s strongest entry, and also its most aggressive. Once again, the old school metal approach is clear, with rapid fire synth bass notes grinding out the equivalent of tremolo picking for a rolling, uptempo piece with suitably explosive percussion. The ferocity of the opening section relents just long enough to allow a more sparse, melodic section to play out, and when it leaps back into the main section it feels riveting all over again. Small, inspired touches, like bell tolls accenting the most aggressive moments or echoes of the song’s opening effect drifting across the background of the break, add plenty of detail that elevates the songwriting into a rarified space among darksynth creations. The track’s four-minute running time passes effortlessly thanks to the variety of complementary sections, and it’s easy to let the song play on repeat.

Sadly, the immense accomplishment of “Mechanical Doppelganger” fades into relatively casual songwriting with “Digital Horizon.” The slower tempo is a nice cooldown after the blitz of its preceding track, though the music never offers enough memorable melodies or subtle touches to rival its companions on the album. “Edge Walker” comes next with a similarly mild delivery, as well as a similar level of disappointment. Although there’s nothing serious to complain about in the songs, they’re distinctly bland compared to the tracks that open the album.

Just when it seems the recording might follow in steps of Synth City after all, Dystopian Future instead bounces back with a pair of powerful tracks to finish the recording. First is “Arcade Punk,” which features one of the album’s strongest cybersynth sounds. Built with a surprisingly buoyant rhythm and quick accent notes as its foundation, an industrial-like whistling tone rings out across the soundscape like a warning alarm inside the Technodrome. In fact, the entire song could be the anthem for an R-rated version of General Krang and an army of Utrom.

“Dystopian Future” rounds out the album with a return to atmospheric, midtempo songwriting, though the track fares far better than “Digital Horizon” and “Edge Walker.” The opening moments have the most classic synthwave sound of anything on the album, leaning back into the main genre with an approach that echoes artists like Lost Years and Waveshaper. It doesn’t last long though, and Shredder 1984 soon transforms the track into the equivalent of a prowling mechanical beast, accompanied by ominous, atmospheric undertones that occasionally echo The Terminator theme. It’s a fitting conclusion to the album and helps Dystopian Future finish on a strong note.

Although the music on the album is mostly excellent, one notable downside is its running length. The recording cuts off following the title track after just 27 minutes of playing time. In an era when the distinction between an EP and an album has become non-existent, it’s tough to know how to evaluate the 7-song Dystopian Future. Three things are certain, however: the short song lengths ensure the music remains fresh and worthy of repeated listens, the excellence of the album’s best moments make it easy to want a higher number of songs and a longer running time, and the 7-Euro asking price on Bandcamp is well worth the price of admission.

Although the short run time and two mediocre tracks slightly diminish the album’s overall value, the enormous strength of songs like “Samurai Cyber Punk” and “Mechanical Doppelganger” easily outweigh the shortcomings. The best moments of Shredder 1984’s second album are a triumph in their own right and they signal great things for the future, both for the artist and for cyberpunk-themed darksynth. A longer and more consistent follow-up in the same style could easily be an album for the ages. For now, fans will just have to content themselves with the frequent glimpses of perfection offered on Dystopian Future.

Rating: 94 / 100

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