By Rick Shithouse
Easily one of my personal favourite features of the 80s inspired synth scene is the 'impossible mix'. Mixes of sounds from different eras of the decade (and previous,.. and post!) that combine into something utterly new and completely impossible to have occurred in our normal timeline.
Canada's 20SIX Hundred has managed to combine a whole damn mess of synthscapes in his new record: The Cold Rise From Sleep. Moving away from his normal milieu of arcade inspired OutRun and Synthwave moods he takes on the forces of darkness and manages to make a heady brew of evil that is full or malicious intent and retro reverence.
Although the mixtures of sounds are many, an overarching giallo thematic ties much of the music together. Fans of Italian horror soundtrack works from the likes of Tangerine Dream, Goblin, Ennio Morricone and Fabio Frizzi will find much to love as the saturated colours of sound summon all kinds of supernatural visions and powers.
The way 20SIX Hundred uses these thematics amid his other influences is where the real magic happens though. The tracks are multi faceted with different instruments and nuances that bring to mind the 20SIX Hundred experience we've shared through The Next Level and Player One but the context used throughout The Cold Rise From Sleep is entirely different in aesthetic, motive and execution.
Once again the use of guitars creates a starring role that shines amongst the other players in the cast with the soulful wailing giving much character and voice to the scenarios. The solos are just pure magic with so much emotional depth given to music's force. Not just containing himself to the trappings of his own guitar work that we're familiar with, 20SIX Hundred pushes things into a superbly orchestrated progressive atmosphere right from the outset. Especially through the opening chapters and most obviously in 'The Witching' a decidedly Pink Floyd inspired ambience is attained amid the haunting synths and aural demons.
A feeling of not really knowing what's going to be next adds so much to this as a full album experience. Will we be chased through mist filled, grey forests? Is there an apparition taunting us from just outside our peripheral vision? Or, in the case of 'Dead Of Night' is there going be someone pulling on their black leather gloves and wringing their wanton grip round the nape of an unsuspecting nubile's throat. The scenes are so beautifully illustrated and actualised in the music that you just can't help but see the still framed visions of horror before your mind's eye.
Beauty is also high on the agenda for 20SIX Hundred as numerous delicately formed, gauzy passages are set to drift in the night time breeze and just barely hint at the ensuing danger. They light passions, both nocturnal and forbidden. One just can't look away from the beauty soon to be endangered on 'After Hours' as the throes of lust betray an ever growing dissonance that is set to explode in fiery, supernatural rage.
'On The Verge' brings the evil into razor sharp focus with an immense beat providing a hellish drive for occult powers to take their hold and extinguish the life that they crave. Right on point, the music delivers drama when it needs to while introducing all manner of disturbing imagery in the backgrounds. You get flashes of the demon, single frames, incredibly brief moments; but you feel its awesome presence resonating through the fibres of every instrument.
Using single devices to move a track through its different stages is a wonderful skill used in some of the most emotive and hypnotising soundtrack experiences. In 'Fall Of The Cyanide Grid' the stealthily bouncing bass line hooks you into an atmospheric layering of chanting devilry and startling visions. Your focus tries to keep on that bassline for dear life, but the gnashing teeth and unearthly powers are sent to avert your gaze to another dimension, one from which there is no escape.
The delightfully titled 'Death Perception' continues the story on a different path. Through the eyes of the villain our pulse quickens and minds races through torment that breaks quickly into insanity. 20SIX Hundred adds empathy to synths that call out desperately for solace and forgiveness before all control is relinquished. But the terror is loosed upon victims that can not possibly survive the immense bloodlust now slicing life from limb in a murderous rampage.
After the carnage the tone becomes calmer once again. The story of 'Obscured By Memories' allows the listener to hear the human story of an inhumane life. The cries of pain and anguish, though painful, are tenderly explained via some brilliantly performed guitar and the music gets stripped back to a bare whisper in the scintillating final act act of the scene, 'The Darkness'. A human face is given to the maligned monster of death, a hand quivers, outstretched in the darkness; looking, hoping for something to hold onto. The grasp remains empty,.. and falls deeply into the nothingness within.
Ending the investigation, 'Cimmerian Shade/Last Moments' gives us a two part conclusion that brings a semblance of order, sanity and hope into the narrative. The melodies hint at some kind of positive outcome; for those who are still left alive, but the haunting memories begin the manifest deeper and deeper into the music. The tonal frailty of superbly orchestrated tender passages are wondrous, and bring a small glowing orb of light that shines brighter and brighter until the screen fades to white and the credits roll.
20SIX Hundred presents The Cold Rise From Sleep on his Bandcamp page here in the usual downloadable formats and also in strictly limited editions on cassette and CD (plus the totally rockin artwork is available as a poster). I deeply enjoyed this album on a huge variety of levels. The rich storytelling and mixtures of sounds from many different influences makes for something very special.
It works exceedingly well as a concept or soundtrack album but the individual tracks themselves stand on their own as being parts just as important as the whole. The album is a masterfully made experience that raises the bar on the soundtrack oriented album. Much like C-Jeffs incredible Big Steel Wheels album and Tommy's Outer Space Adventurer 20SIX Hundred's The Cold Rise From Sleep will transport you to another place and tell you a story that is absolutely riveting from beginning to end and is thoroughly a Synthetix Reference Experience.