Album Review: We Are Magonia – Apocalypse

Smoky bits of seared synth bass, steamed slices of spacewave, and juicy morsels of classical music fill We Are Magonia’s platter of modern darksynth music. With its array of flavors, Apocalypse represents the evolving style as well as any release within the past two years, and it has many of the trademarks of the still-new darksynth genre: symphonic scores and brooding piano pieces, overt themes of theistic Satanism, and fat, grinding bass riffs that feel like they could peel the paint off the walls at high volume.

But although We Are Magonia delivers the group’s myriad creative elements with consistently high technical excellence and production, the recording is surprisingly short on exceptional moments, and the end result feels like the high-end buffet option of the darksynth scene: it may not be the best music you’ve heard in the genre, but you’re likely to leave the table feeling satisfied just the same.

Everything about Apocalypse, the great and the not-so-great, is on display upfront in “Anthem for the Apocalypse.” The track opens with a lush orchestral piece that leads directly into a thumping slab of violent darksynth, beating and pulverizing its way through the listener’s speakers with eager abrasiveness. The primary section retreats briefly to introduce an electric guitar, which later joins the full fray to offer balance and counterpoint to the synth bass. Another nice surprise arrives when a break near the center of the song drops into a gothic, atmospheric synthesizer melody before detonating once again into organized chaos.

The amount of diversity in the instrumentation and the frequent breaks successfully generate enough variety to maintain interest in the song, though it’s hard not to notice the relatively bullheaded nature of the main section, which for all its energy feels brutish and one-dimensional. Only by the third or fourth pass through “Anthem for the Apocalypse” does it begin to wear out its appeal, though the indiscriminate thumping is a harbinger for some of the repetitive songwriting that follows.

“Primal Scream” holds the second spot on the tracklist, opening with a succinct and melancholic piano melody before diving headlong into a raging torrent of glitchy electronic noise and shredding up the soundscape in a fury of pounding beats and hammering synth bass riffs. A light, attractive melody joins the fray to accent its rhythmic center, and together they pulverize the listener’s eardrums until dropping into the first break, which reduces the storm to a gentle din.

The opening moments are highly gratifying, and it’s easy to reach for the volume knob to increase the intensity of the maelstrom. The same synth tornado returns twice more, shredding the speakers with vigor each time, while a second, extended break brings back the heavy-hearted piano tones of the intro for a cozy bit of shelter from the storm. However, the song overstays its welcome, and by the third pass through the raging whirlwind, the main section has begun to sound more like a tired hound’s howl than the intimidating roar of an electronic beast. At the conclusion of “Primal Scream”’s five-minute running time, the once-exhilarating track has worn regrettably thin.

The particular structure used in “Primal Scream” has much in common with entries on Lazerpunk’s almost-awesome Death & Glory album, in which a primary section plays out three times and is punctuated by a pair of quiet breaks. In both cases, the breaks feel like momentary reprieves more than meaningful changes in the soundscape, and the overexposure of the song’s most aggressive element eliminates the possibility for tension or a climax. “Primal Scream” is massive and brutal, yet it’s essentially a monster movie that reveals its beast too soon: the finale arrives 30 seconds in and the song has little recourse but to tear up the same ground for the next four and a half minutes.

Fortunately, not every track falls into the same pattern. The previously-released “Ground is the Limit” offers a more subdued, melody-driven piece with a traditional song structure, and We Are Magonia has packed it into a shorter length with enjoyable results. It delivers one of the most classic synthwave sounds on the recording, and free of the glitchy effects and jagged darksynth textures of the songs that precede it, constitutes a meaningful piece of variety in the tracklist. “August 29, 1997” featuring Isidor provides another notable entry, this time guided by flowing melodies that push across the grinding, rhythmic bass that churns out the foundation. The music transitions easily from one moment to the next, and Isidor’s touch on the composition adds a subtle but valuable accent to We Are Magonia’s style.

As enjoyable as these tracks are however, they can’t compete with the crown jewel of the recording, which arrives on the exceptional “Electric Guillotine.” The song hits a perfect balance of full-force synthetic fury with low-key melodic moments for a composition that rises and falls, builds tension and anticipation, and channels the electric charge built up in the breaks through its thunderous full form. In a stroke of inspired songwriting, a baroque harpsichord shatters the violent synthscape late in the track, turning the music on its head before converting back into its electric beast mode for the finale. It’s not a stretch to say “Electric Guillotine” is one of the finest darksynth tracks recorded by anyone to date, and its songwriting depth withstands repeat listens more than any other entry on the album.

However, fans who have been following We Are Magonia’s early career might feel a pang of disappointment at the realization that the familiar “Electric Guillotine”–released as a single in 2017–is the high mark of Apocalypse, and other entries are quite distant from its excellence. The linear and uninspired compositions of “Satanic Worship,” “High School Massacre,” and “Terror,” which move along with little detail, enthusiasm, or variety for their duration, are difficult to remember or identify even after multiple trips through the recording, and are consequently easy to leave off a personal playlist or music collection.

The 41-minute running time is also partly filled with non-darksynth pieces like “Painkiller Overdose” and the enjoyable but overly long and repetitive “From Outer Space, with Love.” These entries offer meaningful bits of variety to break up the recording and emphasize the strength of other tracks through their contrasting songwriting approaches, though for those who came to Apocalypse looking for audio savagery, the few unremarkable and repetitious pieces combine with these low-key alternative songs to leave the album looking a bit light on total terror.

That said, it would hard to ask for much more from We Are Magonia on their debut. Apocalypse delivers solidly enjoyable darksynth tracks with excellent execution and audio production, and it garnishes its main course of gritty synthesizer music with bits of piano, stringed instruments, and spacey melodic tones. Most of the tracklist offers rewarding moments that are worth revisiting multiple times, and the amount of variety and ambition in the song styles alone deserves praise. Apocalypse is an appetizing smorgasbord of music that will satisfy almost all darksynth fans, and it’s well worth bellying-up to the table for.

Rating: 80 / 100 (Great)

Songwriting: 8
Execution: 10
Production: 9
Song Variety: 8
Consistency: 6
Memorability: 7
(Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.)

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