Album Review: Neon Nox – Syndicate Shadow

Do you like watered down synthwave with repetitive song structures, soul-sucking melodies, and a complete lack of new ideas and inspiration? If you answered yes to any or all of the above, then Syndicate Shadow is for you. Neon Nox has delivered 11 tracks of mind-numbing music that would have been difficult to trudge through in 2013 when the main genre was still relatively new and exciting. In 2018, the album is a relentless waste of 47 minutes of life, churning out track after track of awkwardly produced audio devoid of interesting compositional changes or any kind of memorable songwriting that would compel a person to endure the album more than once.

Playing Syndicate Shadow is like being dragged though day-old creamed corn, the muted colors and deadened flavor of the music sliding across the ears with unvarying texture and quality and leaving behind a lingering film that’s difficult to wash off.

The album at least deserves recognition for dependability, as it dives straight into tedium on “Prelude.” The song’s most remarkable element is its voice clip, which is a welcome distraction from the monotonous beat and barely identifiable melodies that ping and throb their way through the track. The opening effort is so bad, it actually serves as an corn-clad guarantee that the album will fail to deliver a single worthwhile moment, a promise that is fulfilled with complete uniformity.

It’s true that Syndicate Shadow‘s songs occasionally vary in their style, as on the dream house slant of “Fahrenheit” or the Street Cleaner-esque darkened synthwave style of “Payback” and “Street Hawk,” though one thing can be counted on to never change: the senses-numbing repetition of the beats and the pale yellow stain of the lifeless melodies.

A vocal track arrives on “Repeatedly” to offer a small landmark in the wasteland, though vocalist RBKA’s sedated verse performance and off-key chorus notes do little to salvage the underlying husk of synthwave music. Same again with a barely competent and ceaselessly bland guitar contribution from Powernerd on “Rise of the Hero.”

Those intrepid enough to brave the full album will find themselves punished on a regular basis with a single looping idea for four or five minutes at a time, as Neon Nox hammers away with the same dry rhythm and empty melodies long after their initial ten seconds of potential have passed.

Tracks like “Assassination,” “The Target,” and “Street Hawk” are endurance tests of banality, and anyone who survives the assault of cliched synthwave songwriting should feel inspired to seek out better recordings with their new lease on life. Compared to top releases of the year like Ace Buchannon’s Magenta Nights, Isidor’s Lord of Synth, or Wolf Club’s Chasing the Storm, Neon Nox’s debut isn’t even an also-ran.

Not even the production is able to salvage the album, as the recording often comes through the speakers with a shrill and metallic clang like it’s being broadcast through an empty aluminum can, perhaps the same one the songwriting spilled out of. The audio quality ranges from dull to lopsided, and in the instances when the music has any punch to it, as on “Assassination,” the rhythm section feels overly bright and forceful. The result needles the eardrums and dominates the other elements at higher volumes.

NewRetroWave seems intent on putting out subpar recordings available in the genre today, with recent releases from Judge Bitch and Robert Parker falling just as short of relevance as Neon Nox’s full-length effort. Setting aside the odd synthpop experiment that is Alex and Megan McDuffee’s Hero, the record label’s last four releases have combined to deliver a single worthwhile song–and it’s not on Syndicate Shadow.

The label has become a showcase of how not to make synthwave music, and its recent offerings are excellent examples of failures and mistakes that other producers can learn from to enhance their own creations. Syndicate Shadow is worth a look solely for a glimpse of just how bland and forgettable synthwave music can be.

Rating: 27 / 100 (Terrible)

Songwriting: 2
Execution: 5
Production: 5
Song Variety: 3
Consistency: 0
Memorability: 1
(Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.)

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

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