I am not a fan of the darkwave subset of synthwave. There is nothing wrong with it, and I certainly respect it. It is, after all, one of the fastest growing and fiercely loved subgenres within our subgenre scene. Again, I am not a fan of darkwave, but I am a fan of Oberon, the debut EP from Toronto's Crystal Bear!. The EP functions as the first part of a three part series, and Crystal Bear! makes it a point to mention on Bandcamp that doom metal is a major influence. That musical thumbprint is pretty obvious, but so is a clear similarity to some grime music from the mid 2000's, as well as minor chiptune overtones. Despite the short running length and occasionally cheesy synth line, this is a really solid EP.
"Howl & Fang" is an excellent choice of an album opener. It demonstrates a lot of musical ideas that Crystal Bear! uses throughout the release. The opening displays a strong sense of melody before the song progresses into a more metal inspired breakdown that is common in throughout the EP's four-track run. The song also features a somewhat erratic rhythm on the bass synth, focusing on syncopation. This approach to basslines is really fresh and welcomed.
The second track, "Sunder & Scorn", is more overtly sludgy and doom metal-inspired. It's a solid track, but does suffer a little from feeling underdeveloped. It presents some interesting musical ideas and aggressively scary synth tones, but then it just sort of ends just after 90 seconds. The promise of an almost funk / sludgey metal inspired synthwave track is very exciting and I'd love to see that pursued in future releases.
"Seeker & Thorn" follows and returns to a focus on melody and unexpected turns. The song is much more theatrical than the rest of the EP, with a near constant presence of some type of synth pad. The bass and drums are punchy and give the song great energy. "Mindflayer (The Shape of Synth to Come)" closes the EP in spirit with the rest of Oberon as it fluctuates between the lighter, melody-driven passages and the droning and ominous conclusion. Overall this is a really solid debut, and I look forward to seeing how Crystal Bear! handles this characteristic of having one foot in melody-rich catchy synthwave and brooding darkwave in the future.