As a synthwave musician specialized in darker atmospheres, I already knew many of the big names in the dark synth scene. Oddly enough, however, I hadn't heard much material from Cluster Buster beyond occasional SoundCloud tracks, though I was aware of his presence as a contemporary of musicians like Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, and Dan Terminus.
Then I got a hold of his latest album. Total Terror is an obvious tribute to 80s horror films, made even more clear by the fittingly-edgy artwork for the music that is occasionally even darker. It is not as aggressive as producers like Carpenter Brut or Perturbator, but what it lacks in intensity at times it makes up for in spookiness, effectively keeping Cluster Buster qualified as a dark synth producer.
After a hanging note 'Total Terror' shifts suddenly to a beat with 'Valentine Bluffs'. Evidently, this is a theme for a Valentine's Day gone wrong, and the minor, somewhat chromatic scale for the melody makes it all the creepier. Bell sounds loom over much of the track, suggesting that this is indeed one screwed up holiday occasion. 'The Bodycount Continues' follows suit. While the title seemed a bit early for the album as a whole, it's still a great track as the mass murder in the story goes on.
While some pitch shifting in synthwave sounds a bit iffy for me, Cluster Buster pulls it off well in the beginning of 'Don't Go Skinny Dipping', successfully giving the track a somewhat creepy vibe, though the track appears to otherwise be a lighter mood. 'Deranged' fits well as the main theme for the serial killer of the tale, a rather creepy melody fitting his state of mind.
The beginning of 'Pierced by Shears' is ridden with flanged sound effects, easily reminding me of the soundtrack to Halloween 5. The rest of the track starts off slow, then suddenly picks up into an unusually fast-paced synthwave track, perfectly representative of pop-themed chase music. Another personal favorite from the album.
'Female Protagonist' starts off with lots of vinyl cracks, and it changes to a driving beat comparing to a rather on-edge female hero a la Sarah Connor. 'Hypovolemic Shock' has a very haunting, atmospheric tone despite the use of drum machines, a description comparing well to the mental state of those still alive in Cluster Buster's narrative. 'Cleaver vs Cleavage', while an interesting pun of a title, is easily one of the darker tracks from the album, with a backing melody remarkably reminiscent of the Halloween theme.
'Axe You a Few Questions' is particularly interesting to me as a soundtrack fan. Some orchestral strings are thrown in, in addition to the usual purely-synthetic sounds, giving a good Psycho-like vibe to the track at times. Definitely something to check out if you want more variety of sounds in your dosage of synthwave.
Gearing up for the 'Showdown', as the name would suggest, is very foreboding, suggesting an impending fight as the killer and his remaining targets prepare themselves for the other. Great preparation/workout music overall.
Evidently, the killer has won for now the title of the next track says, 'He Never Stops'. Another good mid-tempo track with nice synth strings trading places with orchestral strings every so often, all over drum machine-based rhythms.
'Nightmares in a Damaged Brain' is a nice horror track shifting in and out of chromatic melodies, making it fitting for the corrupted dreams of the survivors. Near the end of the story, the police finally begin to get a clue of what's going on with 'Crime Scene', which is perfect soundtrack music for a crime-themed movie or TV show. A rather troubling, cliffhanger of an ending of the album with 'The Dead Next Door' ridden with fuzz guitars and on-edge brass and string instruments.
Overall, this is an amazing piece of work. The mastering is not over compressed like some other dark synth albums but loud enough to be deemed a good adrenalin hit for audiences. The choices of instruments, both synthetic and acoustic in nature, fit very well with the ideas. Definitely something I'd recommend for synthwave fans who prefer its darker side.
Future 80s presents Cluster Buster's Total Terror album on their Bandcamp page here and is very, very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM. There appears to be no physical release at the time of this review, though hopefully that will change soon. This album is simply too good for any fans of noir and horror influenced synthwave sounds to miss.