DANCE WITH THE DEAD – The Shape
Dance with the Dead showed up on the radar in 2013 with their solid debut album titled “Out of Body” and quickly became regular guest of many Retrowave playlists. It was a good mix of 80s pastiches with a dark twist. Dark synthwave just sort of started forming as a subgenre and this release perfectly complemented Lazerhawk’s “Skull and Shark” LP released around the same time.
Fast forward to 2016 and DWTD have several releases behind them and what seems a frenzied following. Dark synthwave is booming, even spawning a couple of small specialized live festivals in Europe. Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, all enjoy cult status and are very often a starting point for all the newcomers to synthwave.
The basic formula – faster tempo, minor keys and distorted arpeggiated synths - is now generally known to all and has truly helped to carve out a strong niche. The Shape alone has generated incredible buzz from raving fans, the kind that orthodox synthwave producers can still only dream of.
In fact, there seems to be a trend developing where dark synthwave acts no longer really list themselves as anything retro, synthwave, 80s and such. For example, Carpenter Brut simply states “electro” on their Facebook page and DwtD use different tags on their Bandcamp but none specifically “retrowave” related.
It’s telling that the artists enjoying greatest attention are the ones seemingly doing away with ties to the retrosynth labels – but that’s best left for another discussion. Their other common denominator is the big sound and - what used to be just flirting with metal conventions - a full blown love affair with plenty PDAs.
And “The Shape” is full of exactly that. While the debut was plenty more balanced and told a more rounded story, The Shape stays firmly in the territory of “bigger is better” and really doesn’t feature that much of a synth sound. Here, heavy guitar takes center stage and other sounds are more of the Skrillex school than Sellorekt.
Obviously, the intention here is to provide the optimal live show experience (DWTD) for all those ex metal heads who sometimes seem to make up the majority of the fans of darker Synthwave.
And nothing wrong with that, in fact I, otherwise nonplussed by Carpenter Brut’s stuff when listened at home, had quite a lot of fun seeing them live recently. Their music finally clicked with me and made much more sense with a proper light show, a cleverly edited video background and yes, big motherfucking speakers.
I’m guessing DWTD dudes are going with the same intent as unfortunately, otherwise their album really doesn’t quite hit the mark. Stripped of much what made their debut great – melodic variety and the retro feel - “The Shape” is best enjoyed as a dance record in a club performed live.
Listening at home, the repetitions and production veering on the one dimensional side become a little too obvious and none of the track really transcends the filler status. Probably works well as a good workout or driving album though.
That’s not to say the album is not okay, it’s just not great. The high-water mark of the album comes in the middle with Screams and Whispers, the track that stands out with its sheer energy and an epic main motif.
It’s immediately followed by Adrift, an outlier on the album and the only respite from the sense-devouring sound of the rest of the album. It’s really full of emotion and longing and you simply can’t help but wish we had another pit stop like this on the album (minus the mega cheesy guitar solo).
All in all, The Shape will satisfy the hardcore fans and the fun-seeking male 20-something college students not really looking for sophistication. For the rest of us, the crescendo-to-the-crescendo approach could be a little too much and the main feeling will be of a déjà vu.
Filip grew up on a diet of Masters of Universe, Nightmare on Elm Street and MTV. Born in Croatia, currently lives in Brussels but considers himself a citizen of the planet.