Album Review: 3Force – Resistance

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When 3Force’s full-length Resistance album dropped in 2017, it was something of an outlier. The dramatic inclusion of drum and bass and other modern EDM into synthwave was certainly exciting, though it pushed the Russian trio’s music into a new space on the edges on synthwave, a space that was relatively unoccupied at the time. However, since the original release, it’s become clear that Resistance isn’t an anomaly: it was simply one of the first full-length releases in a rapidly developing pattern of cybersynth music that forms one of the fundamental evolutions in the second generation of synthwave.

It’s possible to pick a few tracks off Resistance and enjoy them on their own, but to fully appreciate what the group has accomplished, it’s much more interesting to examine the relationship between songs.

The album opens patiently, biding its time on the subtle “Neoguard.” On its own, the track isn’t especially exciting or remarkable. Its emphasis on atmospheric effects, particularly at the start, give it a cinematic feel that would work well as the backdrop to a tense moment in a sci-fi horror flick, though active listeners may hope it would build faster and reach a more exciting conclusion before the end of its unnecessarily long six minutes.

However, the beauty of the track doesn’t lie within itself, but in its relationship to what follows. As all great songwriters know, quiet and patient moments are needed to balance the more explosive sections, and within the scope of Resistance’s complete album composition, that’s exactly what “Neoguard” is: a patient moment that becomes retroactively valuable for its role in bolstering subsequent entries.

The song is much more enjoyable when considered as the first act in a three-part series of instrumental storytelling. “Clampdown” arrives on its heels as part two and is significantly more succinct, clocking in at almost half the time of the opener. Once again, “Clampdown” is not necessarily the type of track a person would seek out and play individually, but within the context of 3Force’s long-form storytelling, it’s yet another well placed and perfectly patient piece of the puzzle.

All this anticipation pays dividends when the music reaches its conclusion in part three, “Resistance.” The title track is gratifying not just in relation to the songs that precede it, but as a self-contained song as well.

A carefully sparse intro sets the stage for “Resistance” before new and subtly different sections build the composition across the first half. Near the midpoint, 3Force begins aggressively building tension through sections that are alternately subdued and restless, and just when the it feels like 3Force has built up enough kinetic energy to unleash on the audience, the artists completely drop the bottom out of the song, stranding listeners in a soft ambient space.

Then, in an inspired bit of compositional work, “Resistance” explodes out of the silence with a thunderous rhythm section and a lead melody that sounds like trumpets blaring from the ramparts of an intergalactic warship. The climax capitalizes on a masterfully planned 14 minutes of music, delivering a payoff that is equal in amount to the energy listeners are willing to invest in hearing it.

There’s a certain irony in the deftly woven compositions, as one might expect 3Force’s dancefloor-friendly approach to synthwave to eliminate the rewards of a close listening session, yet Resistance delivers more nuanced songwriting than 99 percent of synthwave albums released in the past two years. Don’t be fooled by the touches of hard EDM in the mix, as the tracks are more than just empty floorfiller. Resistance is equally worthy of a recliner and a pair of great headphones as it is of a live show.

Following the dramatic buildup and payoff of the first three entries, 3Force smartly injects a cooldown into the tracklist with the fittingly titled “Whisper Protocol,” further revealing the group’s careful attention to album composition. The spacey, cinematic track serves as a meaningful reprieve from the pounding rhythms of “Resistance,” though it also works well as a standalone piece or as part of a collection of cinematic spacewave music.

At this point, it should be no surprise that the next entry on the tracklist is a perfect complement to the preceding ones. Exploding out of the expansive ambient tones and thick tension of “Whisper Protocol” comes “Grand Design,” which is not only the most aggressive song on the recording, but arguably its best.

“Grand Design” delivers roaring bass blasts and rapid-fire synth notes alongside perfectly placed interludes filled with spacey effects. The contrast is especially impressive late in the song where a blazing synth solo is flanked by tense melodies that drift through a sparse, percussion-free soundscape. The final moments of the music tell a story of a cosmic firefight that abruptly disintegrates into drifting debris and darkness.

By the time “Grand Design” wraps, it feels like Resistance has already told a complete tale of intergalactic intrigue and war, yet the recording is only at its midpoint. The back half is not quite as extraordinary as the first, though tracks like “Zero Day Union” and “Suppress It” are highly enjoyable entries that work well in contrast with the cinematic closer, “The Better World.”

The album is consistent in delivering attractive synthwave melodies wrapped in modern EDM production. The resulting sound is perfectly retrofuturistic, and the pervasive sci-fi themes summon an array of cosmic imagery to mind. If there are any complaints about the recording, it’s that some of the songs late in the tracklist tend to bleed together and aren’t always easy to distinguish from one another. Also, a handful of effects and melodies can wear out on repeat listens, especially on “Rebellion.”

All things considered, these are relatively minor complaints.

Synthwave fans who have been following the genre closely know the music has changed dramatically in the past two years. The main genre is rapidly dying out, burdened by a glut of inept creators, while dramatic evolutions of the original sound of outrun electro have become increasingly dominant and popular with the most talented artists.

Resistance is no exception, and it’s also no outlier. The album fits perfectly within the scope of cyberpunk synthwave music alongside releases from Neon Droid, Astral Tales, Critical Chaos (aka Straplocked and Ray Gun Hero), Isidor, and a growing number of others. The mix of retro synth tones with aggressive EDM and the infusion of overt science fiction themes has created an exciting new style of music. Cybersynth is still finding its voice, but its marked departure from traditional synthwave points toward an exciting future.

3Force’s Resistance was one of the first recordings to fully embrace this new sound, and since its release, understanding of it has necessarily shifted from a curiosity to a pillar of an emerging genre. The album is innovative in terms of its blend of influences, and the frequently imaginative songwriting lends meaningful substance to its style.

Whether you missed it the first time or simply haven’t heard it in awhile, FiXT Neon‘s re-release of Resistance is justification enough to engage with 3Force’s vision of an exciting and perilous sci-fi world.

Rating: 92 / 100 (Outstanding)

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

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For more info on synthwave and cyberpunk synthwave, check out What is Synthwave? 2018 Edition

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