Album Review: Isidor – Lord of Synth

No one within the realm of synthwave music balances raw power with refined beauty more effectively than Isidor. The artist’s tracks offer a consistently compelling blend of influences, joining thunderous percussion with gleaming melodies on tracks that stimulate every bit of the listener’s earbuds. Sci-fi soundtracks, chiptune music, dark synthwave, and a host of other elements collide in an explosive combination of sounds that wash over the listener in waves of euphoria. Lord of Synth perfectly captures Isidor’s uniquely massive songwriting style and delivers a deep, rewarding selection of tracks that improves with volume and repeat listens.

As the follow-up to 2017’s Synthwave Album of the Year, Lord of Synth has some large shoes to fill. Incredibly, Isidor manages to match and even exceed the excellence of his 3218 recording with a fresh batch of songs that are every bit as nuanced, intelligent, and riveting as those from his last release. Lord of Synth may not have the high curb appeal of the genre’s most well-known releases, though synthwave fans would be remiss in overlooking this masterwork of the modern genre.

Any doubts about the album’s potential are erased on the opening track, “Power Fighter 3000,” which tears open the recording with Isidor’s recognizably cosmic sound production. Colossal percussion hammers out the foundation while vibrant melodies split across the music like shattered stars raining down to Earth. The bottomless bass notes, grinding rhythms, and sparkling synth tones contrast and complement one another perfectly, creating meaningful tension on the music for an electrifying listening experience. Isidor’s musical beast is also stunningly agile for its size, and “Power Fighter 3000” continually shifts through new and different sections for its duration, deftly adding and withdrawing elements to maintain momentum. It’s a masterpiece of modern synthwave that practically demands listeners crank up the volume, and it’s the perfect introduction to Isidor’s latest opus.

The excellence of the opener continues unabated on “Turbo Dance,” an intricate piece with a slightly slower and less aggressive approach that allows Isidor’s detailed compositional style to expand and fill the soundscape. It’s packed with inspired creative decisions and singular touches to make every second of the music meaningful and interesting. Once again, the titanic rhythm section and gorgeous melodies remain in a constant state of evolution, transitioning from one moment to the next for a relentlessly satisfying listening experience.

Isidor continues to reveal mastery of his craft over the next several entries, from the thunderous “Hard Fire” with its classic synthwave melodies and bone-crushing bass blasts to the futuristic, mechanical pulse of “Cyber Creator” and the shimmering majesty of “Silver Highway.” Any potential dips in quality can be attributed to personal taste just as much as objective differences in the caliber of the songwriting, and the first-rate technical execution and production ensure every song reaches its potential.

Although Isidor is most adept at creating massive tracks with Rocketdyne force, he displays a healthy versatility on Lord of Synth‘s tracklist. The downtempo “Neon Owl” eases off the usual firestorm of aggressive synth music for a methodical piece that allows its lush melodies to guide the listener, trading off from bright, chime-like tones to futuristic synths and electric guitar. “Team Vice” follows with an overt homage to Jan Hammer’s “Crockett’s Theme” from the Miami Vice II soundtrack. The retro ’80s approach to the song makes it the most traditional synthwave piece on the album, though it maintains Isidor’s unmistakable bass notes and immaculate sound production and mastering. Together, the two tracks provide a meaningful cooldown period after the white-hot scorchers that open the recording, and they help the music stay fresh when it once again launches into Isidor’s signature musical approach.

More variety and experimentation arrive late in the tracklist, with a surprising festival EDM vibe coming through on the rhythmic Intercept, which bounces through its running length with deep, grinding bass tones and pre-drop vocal splashes. Moving in the opposite direction, Lord of Synth concludes with an atmospheric and meditative piece that serves as a perfect counterpoint to roar of the opening tracks. On “Dystopian Love,” a light drum beat supports gentle synth melodies and angelic backing vocals to recall the restful serenity of new age music. Compositionally, it’s the most straightforward piece on the album, and also the most divergent from Isidor’s sonic-boom songwriting style, yet it works impressively well as the closer. On a recording that frequently demonstrates Herculean might, the quiet reflection of “Dystopian Love” validates Isidor as a versatile and consummate creator.

In many ways, Isidor represents the new generation of synthwave artists. His music has evolved beyond the heavy-handed ’80s nostalgia that marks the origins of the synthwave genre and incorporates grittier, heavier elements into a flowing compositional style that surpasses the majority of its predecessors in terms of technical execution and production quality. There are more than enough brightly melodic moments on Lord of Synth to appeal to fans of old school outrun music while offering coarse, ferocious elements that will attract fans of the suddenly hulking and extreme genre of darksynth music. Lord of Synth is a finely calibrated and forward-thinking creation that is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stuffy genre of retro cliches.

The album’s hearty variety of music, peerless sound production, and exhilarating songwriting cement Isidor as a preeminent creator within modern synthwave music, and along with 3218, mark him as one of the most valuable contributors to the main genre’s evolution. The immensely high value of the album’s best tracks compensate for some slightly less compelling pieces, though once again, differences in enjoyment can be chalked up to personal taste as much as any kind of objective standard. Lord of Synth may not have the name recognition or flashy cover art of the genre’s most prominent releases, but it towers over its contemporaries in terms of musical content, and it should not be missed by any fan of the synthwave genre.

Rating: 97 / 100

Songwriting: 10
Execution: 10
Production: 10
Song Variety: 9
Consistency: 9
Memorability: 10

Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.

Buy the Album: Bandcamp

Follow the Artist: FacebookInstagramThe Neon OrderSoundcloudSpotifyTwitter

iron skullet new logo 2 white small

Support Iron Skullet on Patreon for more reviews and articles on synthwave.

Check out What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition for a history of the genre and follow Iron Skullet on Spotify for popular playlists dedicated to SynthwaveDarksynth, and Cybersynth.