Emergent Behavior is like the soundtrack to an intergalactic takeover orchestrated by cybernetic demons. It plots its course for conquest across 12 diverse tracks packed with industrial effects, hard-driving rhythms, and an impressively brooding atmosphere. The result is one of the best releases from the artist to date, and it’s sure to please existing fans while serving as the perfect jumping-on spot for newcomers to Glitch Black’s uniquely dystopian soundscapes. There’s a healthy variety of music on the recording, and though the quality is sometimes uneven, the value of the best tracks is high enough to make Emergent Behavior a valuable and prominent contribution to the world of dark synthwave.
The album opens perfectly with “Army of the Dead,” a sinister and gritty creation laced with Night of the Living Dead audio clips. In keeping with darksynth‘s trend toward rhythmic songwriting, Glitch Black has placed emphasis on his coarse effects and industrial-like percussion over melody lines, and the result is a grinding piece that successfully builds tension and anticipation for the remainder of the recording.
That anticipation pays off immediately on the next track, “Vortex,” which delves into Glitch Black’s signature style of uptempo, melodic songwriting. The sound feels like a hybrid blend of synthwave and aggrotech, delivering the energy and aggression of the older EBM style with the retro melodic appeal of the younger synthwave sound. The attractive melodies shift steadily throughout the vigorous, gliding composition for a listening experience that feels precisely like navigating a heavily armed spacecraft through an inter-dimensional portal.
“BK-1” follows with another coarse, grinding entry, this time faster and more vibrant than “Army of the Dead.” Machine-like effects and percussion pound out the track alongside a techno-esque rhythm while an attractive female voice describes the “master of all machines…BK-1.” The music is cloaked in the dense atmosphere of a futuristic, cybernetic city, bringing to mind visions of gritty warehouse docks on the back of a covert manufacturing plant, clandestinely preparing for a takeover with hostile war machines. The track perfectly complements the two songs that precede it, and together they form a strong trio to kickstart the album.
However, despite the high quality of the opening tracks, Emergent Behavior shows its first sign of weakness on the next two entries, and it’s a familiar one. The biggest complaint against Emergent Behavior is one that applies to many of the albums in Glitch Black’s discography, which is that several songs feel like filler. At the very least, they come across as intermissions that provide too much of a break from the more compelling compositions. “Man of Madness” is an example of this, and comes off as a strangely generic darksynth track, particularly in relation to the outstanding creations that opened the recording. The featureless riffing, pulverizing synth bass, and thumping beat almost sound like they were ghost-written by a Glitch Black apprentice who hasn’t yet learned the techniques of the master, and the disparity between it and entries like “Vortex” and “Prototype” is perplexing.
Other tracks, like “Shadow of the Tessaract” are more clearly meant as a break in the album and a way to explore new songwriting ideas, and although the audio-clip-driven piece is engaging and interesting in its own right, it’s not a “song” in the traditional sense and is unlikely to encourage listeners to seek it out and play it for its own sake. The track is not alone in that sense: “Codename O.N.Y.X.” and “Sojourn” have similarly little weight, feeling more like accents to other tracks than meaningful individual compositions. In some ways, Emergent Behavior is almost best experienced front to back, playing each song in order, as “Shadow of the Tessaract” feels much more valuable when it’s juxtaposed with the more aggressive and detailed pieces that occupy the rest of the album.
Several standout tracks arrive late in the recording, and they largely compensate for the other songs’ shortcomings. “Deathwish” begins as a gritty darksynth track led by a maniacal audio clip of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, though it transitions into a surprisingly elegant and melodic affair by the conclusion. “Prototype” delivers one of the most rewarding Glitch Black intros recorded to date, patiently building with its minimal beat and light synthesizer tones before exploding into the main section with a gleaming and instantly compelling lead melody. “Genesis” is similarly rewarding in its delivery of one of the album’s more subtly progressive entries.
All together, Emergent Behavior is highly enjoyable as the background music to a gaming session or a night drive through the industrial sections of a big city. The music also benefits greatly from high volume, and the excellent audio production ensures the heavy distortion does a fine job of chewing up listeners’ eardrums while the melodies simultaneously spread their soothing balm over the damaged tissue.
Glitch Black’s signature brand of cybernetic darksynth is well represented across Emergent Behavior‘s twelve tracks, and the excellent variety of music and memorable moments on the recording make it worth delving deep into its gritty, dystopian world and sticking around to see what unfolds. Although a handful of tracks pass unremarkably and break up the overall listening enjoyment of the album, their effect on the total quality pales in the face of the massive pieces of robotic terror that constitute Emergent Behavior‘s best moments. Whether it’s by pulling out favorite songs to enjoy numerous times or taking the plunge and sinking all the way into Glitch Black’s world of haunted machinery, there’s more than enough quality material to recommend Emergent Behavior to fans of synthwave’s dark side.
Rating: 83 / 100 (Great)
Song Variety: 9
(Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.)
Support Iron Skullet on Patreon