Perturbator - The Uncanny Valley
Blood Music
13 songs (68' 4")
Release year: 2016
Reviewed by Andy

Receiving something from our reviews pile described as "synthwave", it came as quite a shock to me when my techno-loving business partner mentioned he'd been listening to a project called Perturbator, which I recognized as the originator of the album I'd just gotten hold of -- which, given that the trance he usually prefers often makes me feel sleepy to listen to it, was hardly a mark in its favor, even if James "Perturbator" Kent originally came from the metal scene. But after listening to The Uncanny Valley, I can understand a little better why it made its way into my hands, and why trance aficionados and metalheads alike might find this one interesting. True, there is very little metal here, but the sound is dark, cool, and hard, the sound of a tech-dystopia straight out of a William Gibson story.

Think of some of the background music tracks of the 16-bit games played in the early 90s mixed with 80s new-wave synths, and modernize that a bit, and that's the sort of thing one gets: Electronica of varying tempo -- a few fast and techno-oriented, such as opener Neo Tokyo; others mid-tempo soundtracks for commando attack runs, such as Weapons for Children. These are all driven by synths that buzz like a swarm of cicadas. Perturbator appears to be a man who likes his phase shifter, and pressed up against the thumping synth bass, the keyboards are as abrasive as one might expect from someone who has been a black metal guitarist in the past. The production, needless to say, is flawlessly done, and those who may be less interested in the sound of the keyboards might stick around for the ominous darkness of their sound, one that has no trace of goth-rock influence. A fairly decent set of guests give the heap of keyboard tunes some extra color; Femme Fatale sees Perturbator paired with retro-electronic project Highway Superstar for a slow, lounge-style piece right out of an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack.

Techno does rear its ugly head at times. Neither Disco Inferno's overly bright synth riffs nor its final "robot narration" do it any favors as a song, or make it even slightly interesting, and some of the guests merely add to the poppiness, such as Hayley Stewart on Sentient. But Diabolus Ex Machina, which brings in some guitar soloing to break up all that synth a little bit, is very welcome, and vocals on Souls at Zero, almost more effervescent than the other, non-metal artists, are provided by Astronoid, whose album Air I recently reviewed. This last is like Cynic at their most electronic: Processed clean vocals with a bit of distorted rhythm guitar underneath. The title track is saved for last; long and thematic, it heads back into pure synth territory, but no one can begrudge Perturbator such indulgence when it's clearly both his favorite sound and the one at which he is most proficient. This last is the most impressive of the bunch, showing the range of ability the fellow can apply to synth without using it for either dance music or effects on top of other instruments.

Even on the tracks that are influenced by (or pay homage to) metal, don't expect to experience metal here. But the darkness of the synth and the diversity of the songs Perturbator creates only with retro-80s synths are well worth a listen.


Killing Songs :
Weapons for Children, Femme Fatale, Diabolus Ex Machina, The Uncanny Valley
Andy quoted 85 / 100
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