Album Review: Caspro – Kardasynth

Following a successful full-length debut in 2017, Caspro has returned with a notably darker, more progressive spin on his unique style of melodic synth music. Kardasynth is notable for its unconventional musical approach as much as its overall quality, and in a sea of soundalike synthwave artists, Caspro has maintained a commitment to unique ideas that can’t be mistaken for anything else in the landscape. The five-track EP offers plenty of surprises throughout its running time, and with one exception, delivers quality music worth hearing numerous times. The result is an exciting release for fans of synthwave’s serious-minded relationship with cyberpunk and science fiction.

In terms of style, it’s safe to say Kardasynth doesn’t fit the mold of any forms of traditional synthwave music, and it’s clear that Caspro wasn’t worried about trying. Synthwave has never been a progressive genre, and until recently, exceptions have been rare. Yet 2018 has seen several new artists pull the music further from its retro dance and disco roots into a more modern, cerebral space. Caspro is a forerunner among these creators, and his latest effort represents a dramatic step outward into a progressive form of modern electronic music with elements from diverse genres.

In fact, as on Caspro’s debut Head Reset album, it’s a stretch to label Kardasynth as synthwave at all. Yet it’s hardly an outlier; the recording is part of a pattern in synthwave’s evolution represented by artists like Isidor and Bonggita who have carried synthwave to an imaginative, sometimes surreal space accompanied by non-linear songwriting approaches, an occasional modern vocal contribution, and very little of the ‘80s nostalgia that typified the first generation of synthwave music.

Notably, Kardasynth is a tribute to deathcore band Kardashev, and Caspro has reimagined songs from the group’s history into a distinctly different electronic form. In two instances, Caspro has retained the clean vocal performances from the originals, establishing a concrete connection between the otherwise dissimilar versions of the songs.

Kardasynth opens with these two vocal tracks, and surprisingly, they are the most compositionally rewarding entries on the album. “Voids and Valleys” begins with a gentle ambience that borders on chiptune tones before diving into a brooding atmosphere propelled by an uptempo rhythm and quick melodies that move fleetingly across the soundscape. The result conjures up visions of futuristic cities, interwoven with flying vehicles that hang in a perpetual twilight brought on by the buildings’ dense construction.

“Voids and Valleys” is remarkable for its steady progression and effortless shifts into new sections, and when the primary melody is finally revealed near the midpoint of the song, it splits through the dense atmosphere for a moment of brilliant clarity. The distinctive vocal styling will feel familiar to fans of deathcore and popular melodeath acts, though it’s unlike anything else within the broader realm of synthwave. The airy delivery and gently robotic distortion behind the voice gives it a distinctly modern touch, and the sentimental tone adds an extra layer to Kardasynth‘s creative depth.

A second vocal track follows promptly on “Sea and Space.” The song maintains a similar tone and style as the opener, though it’s packed with its own interesting details and memorable moments. When the tight instrumentation drops into a brooding, machine-like section at the midpoint, it capitalizes on the subtle build-up and meaningful compositional shifts that preceded it, delivering one of the album’s most remarkable and emotionally gratifying moments.

However, the vocals may not appeal to fans of old school synthwave, and the singing style’s specificity to a certain type of fringe metal may carry unwanted associations for other listeners. That said, the inclusion of Kardashev’s original vocals is commendable for its departure from established ideas in and around the synthwave genre. In the midst of a glut of lousy retro ‘80s synthwave creations, the singing on Kardasynth is a fresh voice. Wisely, Caspro has included instrumental versions of the opening tracks to give listeners a choice, and unlike most vocal-driven electronic music, the songs have more than enough depth and subtlety to stand on their own as instrumentals.

The immense success of the opening tracks promises great things for the rest of the EP, though the quality takes a surprising dip on the third entry, “Chiliagon.” The song isn’t necessarily bad, though its rhythm feels needlessly repetitive and the composition is missing the spark and inspiration of the preceding entries. It becomes difficult to find memorable moments within the piece, and even more difficult to feel excited about it on subsequent plays.

“Chiliagon” is a small disappointment though, particularly since the EP finishes strong on the final two entries. “Somnusphere” is the album’s most understated entry and perhaps the most difficult to appreciate on the first few trips through the recording. Relying on the emotional undercurrent and tenor of the music over strong melodic hooks or dramatic structural shifts, Caspro asks listeners to sink into “Somnusphere” and allow it to guide them to its destination, an effort that proves to be well worthwhile.

“Galactic Achievement” closes out the recording on a more accessible note, offering up some of the clearest melodies and most conspicuous chiptune influences of anything on the album. The song’s prominent melodies push the flowing composition across a spacey audioscape, shifting from intense moments with a powerful beat to drifting sections accented by rapid-fire synth solos. The result is an excellent piece of musical storytelling that will feel familiar to those who enjoyed Head Reset.

With its many innovative and memorable moments, Kardasynth builds on the already strong foundation of Caspro’s early discography. The album is not a neon-soaked, copy-paste effort from an aspiring musician. It’s arguably not even synthwave. In 2018, Kardasynth is something more important. It’s the work of a professionally trained artist with a starkly individual vision of how he wants his music to sound, and Caspro has produced this work without regard or consideration for meeting expectations or preconceived ideas. These types of bold strikes are world-building ones.

The future of synthwave music is increasingly in the hands of creators who are more interested in shadowy and surreal sci-fi creations than sunny, retro ‘80s ones, and with Kardasynth, Caspro has contributed a significant building block to the construction of a new style of retrofuturistic cybersynth music. Creative experimentation always has its pitfalls, but on Kardasynth, Caspro navigates and overcomes the risks with admirable results.

Rating: 92 / 100 (Outstanding)

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

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Follow the Artist: Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, SpotifyTwitteriron skullet new logo 2 white smallEnjoy Caspro and similar artists in Iron Skullet’s Cybersynth playlist.

For more info on synthwave, check out What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition and Why Darksynth Deserves its Own Genre

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