Thursday, October 24, 2013

Skull & Shark & Lazerhawk

It's Halloween Week on Synthetix.FM! Yes, that's right Halloween WEEK! Halloween is too big for just one day so it's going to be a week long festival of Halloween celebrations, beginning with the spectacular new album from Lazerhawk!

I mentioned in the recent weekend update how it's been a journey for Lazerhawk in 2013 with his soundtrack work for Dave Rapoza's Skull + Shark project. Now that the album has arrived the term 'journey' feels entirely inadequate. It's been more of a legendary quest than a mere journey and this record reflects this in every track.

The Skull + Shark web comic is still in development as I write this and one can't help but feel we're only getting half of the experience without the visual side to compliment the music. I feel this is massively important as the music has been written to the story, and listening the soundtrack my interested is piqued to fever pitch to experience the full onslaught of sound and vision. This isn't to say the record can't stand up on it's own, cause it certainly does in every respect, however the promise of 'greater things' lingers through each of the album's tracks.

This record is a massively important milestone in the scene, as to my knowledge this is the first time a producer in the field of 80s inspired synth has created an entire soundtrack to a visual medium. Working with visual artists and producers of films, comics, videogames, etc is one of the most obvious ways forward to expand their audience and gain further exposure to exciting new working experiences. I see the Skull + Shark project as the first of many collaborations between producers of evolved 80s music and those artists working in visual spheres. I'm not just talking about having existing music used on the soundtrack, I'm talking about the full creative process and the realising of an artistic vision, the sky's the limit and future looks very bright for future projects like this.

Which brings us back to Lazerhawk's new record. Throughout the creative process for this work this  particular producer's sounds and styles have been carved and hacked up for more brutality and then given deeper colours of onyx darkness. The depths on this album had been previously untapped in previous Lazerhawk records, the darkness is all but consuming and only tiny pinholes of light are allowed to survive in this thoroughly bleak aural adventure.

The first thing that hits you is the heaviness of the sound. Opening with the title track the percussion thuds with disdain and synth layer gain volume and weight as each second passes. Foreboding and forceful it digs deep into the black earth until weight of the pitch bears down with g-forces of power. The dirge like melodies are devoid of hope and the music pummels in with unrelenting might deep into the opening chapters. The album feels like it's tunnelling deeper and deeper down with each track, and just as our eyes begin to adjust to this new level of darkness we're plunged deeper into the unknown.

The magic of the writing in Skull + Shark is that it constantly threatens to fall over upon itself into a soul crushing black hole but regains it's composure and manages to eke out even more blackness without succumbing to the ever growing black hole that powers the music. The introduction of stringed instruments adds even more iniquity to proceedings casting wailing pleas of terror against an unforgiving juggernaut of marching synth darkness.

Lazerhawk's hallmark melodies and arrangements are now tempered in fires that have only allowed base elements to survive. These cries of anguish resonate in 'Lawless' and 'King Of The Streets' as veiled epitaphs of blackened OutRun are chained to immense statues of sound with leashes eternally held taut as they try to escape the shadows in a state of forlorn torture. Their existence adds grains of hope to the synthscape, regardless of it's futility in the face of such ominousness, but without these specks of light the album wouldn't be nearly as accomplished.

It's these shinier details that makes tracks like the brutal 'Massacre' appear to contain some brief glimpse of humanity, peering deep into the melodies the ghosts are there, riding the cold winds in a barren dimension, the last remnants of humanity. A nurturing of these frail fibres occurs in 'A Promise'. The strands are gathered and weaved from gossamer beginnings into a fabric of strength and triumph. The processes are long and fraught with seemingly insurmountable tests of will but it's the Lazerhawk magic that rises to an enigmatic crescendo of pulsating shadow play against the odds.

Through the middle acts, Skull + Shark materialises into more familiar hemispheres of aural anguish as Lazerhawk takes the terror to the dance floor in the visceral slash-electro, giallo-spiller, floor-filler, night-thriller 'Dangerous After Dark'. Vague shades of early Lazerhawk sounds are again taken to the wall and beaten within an inch of their existence before being forced to parade their grotesque new forms in front of audience hungry for blood and violence.

The instrument expansion continues into 'The Looks That Kill' which brings an army of crunching electric guitars in as standard bearers on the march through hell continues. This doom laden procession takes us to even more new destinations, resulting in a violent visit to 'China Town' where tortured eastern flourishes are needled and plucked with complete disdain. These two tracks especially provide huge amounts of diversity in a much more obvious manner which then leads into industrial cowbell brutality of 'Built To Kill'.

Lazerhawk has allowed himself to channel a vast array of devilish muses throughout this record and during 'Children Of The Night' I feel like a lot of classic horror soundtrack work has been his inspiration. Theremin-like melodies are engineered for much harsher savagery as ghastly embodiments of evil are unleashed into the synthscape.  'These Streets' and 'Fight To The Top' add a more anthemic nature to bleakness as thumping percussion is joined by possibly the most classically prepared Lazerhawk experiences on the album. The music steps briefly out of the pitch black night and into a dimension with just the faintest suggestion of neon. The rockin is taken to new heights and the monolithic precursors at the album's beginning feel like they happened light years ago. This displays just how vast this album really is.

It would be too easy to finish on the high notes of 'Fight To The Top' and in one last act of defiance the blackened claws rise up from the deepest shadows in 'Brothers'. The beauty of the melody is poignantly explored while threats of complete obliteration surround us. The intensity of the percussion just magnifies the melodic harmony and it's existence refuses to be snuffed out. The final chapter on album is 'Another Chance' which serves as an introspective credits-roll affair that recounts former glories and future promises as an air jubilation is counterpointed by the underlying charred remnants of the forces of darkness that shall not be vanquished forever.

To listen to this album is to share in Lazerhawk's year long journey. The fatigue of emotion, the exaltation of success and the energies the bind the ideas into such powerful music is tactile and by the last tracks fade out there is a definite element of exhaustion. Clocking in at nearly eighty minutes of unrelenting intensity Skull + Shark is definitely not for the faint of heart or weak of constitution. I find that no matter how hard I try to carve this album up into more easily digestible portions I simply can't deny myself the gorging pleasure of consuming this album in it's entirety, which is yet another testament to it's effectiveness as one complete experience.

Which brings us to the decaying elephant in the room: the visual side to this project. I can only imagine how much the intensity is going to ramp up with the accompanying comic art. I mean, look at this tiny sample and try and tell me the full experience is not going to rock harder than a melonfarmer:

The magical synergy between these two artists is going to make for hell of an explosive adventure and I'll ensure that no one misses out on this when it is released in future updates on Synthetix.FM. In the meantime keep up to date with Dave Rapoza's Skull + Shark on his blog here. For now, the soundtrack will have to suffice.

Skull + Shark is presented on Lazerhawk's Bandcamp page here, this is undoubtedly a Synthetix Reference Experience on every imaginable level as the music presented is as vast as it is powerful. Across entire adventure into darkness and horror Lazerhawk retains a crystalline vision and imparts the sounds of old and new in a way that is undeniably awe inspiring. As 2013 moves into it's final phases, Skull + Shark is definitely one of the most rockin experiences of the year and you do yourself a huge disservice by not prioritising this killer album any longer than absolutely you have to; the wait has been well worth it.


  1. "to my knowledge this is the first time a producer in the field of 80s inspired synth has created an entire soundtrack to a visual medium"

    Lazerhawk is absolutely one of my favourite artists in the scene and I'm very hyped about this album, so without trying to diminish anything you've said here I would suggest that Makeup And Vanity Set has passed this milestone already with 88:88, the soundtrack to the short film of the same name (also a fantastic album).

  2. Ahh thank you, yes! You're 100% correct! It must've slipped my memory, which is shameful as I have reviewed it on Synthetix.FM previously.

  3. Excellent, detailed review and update, Rick. Thanks very much. Lazerhawk has created what's clearly a labour of love; it's obvious that he's put his heart and soul into the Skull and Shark soundtrack. It paid off. The final results are mindblowing.