“I took a chance to fly”
(Copy Preordered through Crowdfunding)
After a year and a half of waiting and being teased, the new studio album by Area 11, titled Modern Synthesis is here. I speak for all of the fans when I say that this has been a long, long wait. But now that it’s here and having listened to it a few times, what do I, a random on the internet have to say about it?
The answer may shock you.
I’m gonna go through track by track. I’ve never reviewed music before so I’ll try my best but here we go.
The first track is Override[C], a continuation and finale of The Override Symphony which began in 2014 with Override[A] and continued in 2015 with Override[B]. The Override Symphony has always been a bit hit and miss for me if I’m honest. Override[A] was, in my opinion, the weakest of all of the tracks on Underline (Still not a bad track mind, but compared to the other two tracks, I just wasn’t as big of a fan) and Override[B] was a decent enough instrumental track to bridge the gap between Underline and Modern Synthesis. Nothing ground-breaking, just good. Override[C] however, is a fantastic conclusion to the trilogy. Lots of rising guitars (Something I’m always a fan of) and great riffs. The way the track builds up at the beginning sends chills up my spine, and that beat just before all the other instruments kick in just after the buildup really adds gravitas to the whole piece. The track is very synth heavy, while also having a really memorable melody. A trademark of Area 11 at this point. In addition, the lyrics are covered in Area 11’s trademark style with lots of multisyllabic words and phrases that are just written so beautifully. It’s like poetry in it’s own right.
Moving on to The Contract. This is probably the most typical Area 11 song on the album. If you were a fan of the band’s previous discography, you’ll definitely feel that here. Lots of guitars, crisp, clear lyrics, a great bassline and a really memorable chorus. However, it sounds different enough to the likes of Vectors and Are You Listening? that it has it’s own identity and doesn’t sound out of place on this much more personal, less boppy album. It’s a really good fuckin’ track. I don’t really have much more to say on this one.
Track 3 is called Watchmaker, one that we’d heard before thanks to it’s release as a single beforehand. Watchmaker gives me shades of Muse, in a very good way. This sounds distinctly different from anything that the band has put out before, but still retains their lyrical style and composition handiwork. Again, some beautiful lyrics and excellent delivery of said lyrics as well as some excellent work on guitar, something that is very consistent throughout the whole album.
Up next is Versus, another song we’ve heard before since it was, again, a single beforehand. From the moment you hear the first line of this one, you know it’s something different. It gives me Enter Shikari vibes in its lyrical delivery, what with the use of screaming. However, unlike Enter Shikari, I feel the balance between screaming and singing is perfect here. The drumming on this track in particular is fantastic, with really impactful notes that drive home the points this song makes about division and battle. The guitar solo is also fucking rad. Just sayin’. The final chorus is delivered in such a way that you can imagine Sparkles*, the lead singer, just breaking down and giving in to this “virus in his head”, it’s powerful imagery to be conjured from just a vocal performance alone. Truly some great stuff.
Next is Processor, which I’m kinda lukewarm on. It starts well enough, with a piano and some really well put together vocals (The first verse of this one has stuck with me ever since I first heard it), however then the song starts proper with alarms and stuff and… I dunno, it just comes across as a bit eh to me. The lyrics are still fantastic, as are the musical components. I think it’s the delivery though. I kind of like it, basically is what I’m saying. When it slows down, it’s really good, but the bits where it speeds up are kind of forgettable.
And we move on to Red Queen. It’s become a standard set now for all sixth tracks on Area 11 albums to be a bit more slow paced than the rest of the album. The last one, Shi No Barado, I was very negative towards (Didn’t hate it, it just felt out of place). Red Queen however, is a marked improvement on its predecessor. The bassline on this one is really strong, and the vocal delivery is just beautiful. That and the concept is much stronger overall. Shi No was a very easy thing to deconstruct and had the same basic message as The Contract does now. Red Queen however just has so much more going on than the other “sixth track”. I like it a lot, especially the chorus.
Angel Lust is next and it’s great. The band has supposedly moved away from it’s Japanese inspired beginnings but his one really scratches the J-Rock itch in my brain, from the opening bars alone, it screams J-Rock to me. It discusses some really interesting themes regarding religion and God and stuff, so thematically a very strong track. Also, the wonderful guitar solo after the second chorus is something to behold. It’s not a typical powerslide-worthy solo, but much more understated. This is great, it still gets you going, while also being really different to other solos on the album.
Next we have The Life of a Ghost and again, I’m lukewarm on this one. It’s not bad by any means, just a bit forgettable. I’ll compare it to The Strays, a song from the band’s first album (Which was coincidentally also in the eighth slot on the album… weird). It suffers from the same problem I felt The Strays had. The hook was simply adequate, but not enough to draw me in. It’s still a decent track however, much more modest than other tracks on the album which isn’t a bad thing, with some excellent vocal delivery, lyrics and instrumental work all around. Just starts of kinda badly is all.
Up next is After the Flags and boy do I love this one. Again, another track that gets my J-Rock juices going. It has some really good imagery and a great guitar riff. The pre-chorus in particular sounds very different to anything I’ve ever heard this band produce, and I didn’t know I wanted it until I was given it. Once again, really great delivery from all four of the boys in the band. The solo on this one sounds like something Crush 40 would pump out and I love it. Yeah, After The Flags is very solid. I like it a lot.
If there’s one thing I love in music, it’s soaring, triumphant vocals and the next track, Nebula, kicks off with it. The actual lyrics are anything but triumphant but the delivery on this one is great. It has one of the most memorable choruses on the album, and with its inclusion of stringed instruments, it sounds incredibly grandiose. If I’m honest, Nebula might be my favourite track on the album. Everything is just slammed out of the park on this one, and it’s the one I found myself listening to the most. Definitely worth a listen, even if you’re not a die-hard fan.
The final track is Panacea and the Prelogue. Much like it’s predecessor on the previous album (Titled Bosuzoku Symphonic), it’s much slower and melancholy. However, it’s truly a beautiful track. Mostly played on piano with more instruments layered in as the pace builds up, it reminds me very much of Constellations by Enter Shikari which is a very good thing. As the track gets closer to the end, it ramps up the tension. A cool touch I like is that lyrics from older tracks are layered on top of one another at the end, which lends credence to the sense of history that the band has. The best part is that a lot of those bits are sung by fans, including yours truly (Incidentally, if you hear me in there, let me know. I can’t pick my voice out. I sang the In the Blind segment). It’s a beautiful track in both it’s delivery, composition and the emotions it stirs up of both sadness and nostalgia. It’s the kind of track I’d want to be listening to as my life flashed before my eyes. Which is a really good thing. It’s a beautiful track that makes my heart feel heavy every time I listen to it. And I fucking love it.
All in all then, what do I think of Modern Synthesis? Well, there’s a few weaker moments, but even All the Lights in the Sky had weak moments, and I still love that album. It’s very different to the group’s previous works. If you’re married to the more boppy and upbeat style of All the Lights in the Sky then Modern Synthesis probably isn’t for you, sadly. It is, however, a very personal look at Area 11 and even though it’s different, their signature style is definitely not lost at all. You can read the lyrics or listen to any section of a song and it still feels like an Area 11 track. You can tell that a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this one, and you feel it with every note you hear, every word sung and every beat played. I recommend this one, which is no surprise, but it’s a record anyone can listen to, not just long-time fans, and come away from it having felt something.
Give it a listen if you haven’t already. You won’t regret it.
Modern Synthesis is available on all good online music retailers and at http://www.area11.band