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Review: A Dynamic Sonic Landscape
Russian synthwave group 3Force’s Divide & Collide is an album that snarls and bites, but it can also elicit gentler, more subtle emotional responses as it moves along. There’s a wide variety of guest talent on the album, but it’s the dynamic energy that 3Force brings to the party that lifts this album and propels it forward. Divide & Collide explores a sonic landscape full of triumphal and dramatic lead synths, thick and dark bass and absolutely ferocious drum rhythms interspersed with powerful, emotional vocals and moments of drifting peace.
One factor that immediately struck me about Divide & Collide was the production of the album. There was a strong sense of wide open space in this track; all of the sounds seemed to spread through a cavernous space. Along with a sharpness and clarity in the drums, the synths and the guitars, the overall effect created was one of energy that poured out of every element on the album
All of the vocal work on Divide & Collide is first rate. Robin Adams has a depth and power to his voice that really delivers the lyrics with a punch, easily holding his own with the underlying weight of the music. The Raizer vocalist Anton Vladimirov has a smooth, rich voice, while Klayton’s voice adds a certain dark and whispered quality to the words of “Abyss” and Megan McDuffee’s silky and impassioned singing on “Promise” adds exactly the right feeling to the track.
Drums and Bass
The drums and bass on Divide & Collide are another defining element of the album. They have weight and power to them. On tracks like “Uprising” and “Shape Shifter,” the combination of those thundering drums and the rumbling bass underneath them gives them a powerful foundation. On the more gentle tracks, everything moderates, but there’s still something thick about the bass on those tracks that really holds them up as the drums keep them gliding along smoothly.
Balance and Cohesion
I like the way in which 3Force balanced out the album’s tracks. There are tracks like “Abyss” that churn and roar with Olivaw’s electric guitar and the group’s trademark aggressive beats, while a track like “Future Frame” has a sweeping cinematic quality about it and “Promise” is smooth, silken and full of a certain warmth. The ways in which all of these tracks intertwine lead to an album that moves across a diverse sonic terrain while still retaining enough similar elements to feel cohesive.
My Favourite Tracks
There are a number of tracks on the album that really made an impression on me, so I’ll move on to discussing those tracks and what it is about them that had so much appeal to me.
“Uprising” is a song that gets right to the heart of the current state of the world. Robin Adams has an impassioned, energized delivery as he sings, “Why do we cling to our old ways? Now calamity’s at our feet /If these are the changing tides/Then this is our uprising.”
Slamming drums and a funky electric bass sound were nice touches on the track, along with the deeper underlying bass tones that throb through the whole track. There is also an anthemic quality to the melody of the song that creates a strong sense of uplift along with lyrics like, “Give me a sign/ That the days laid ahead are the start of the climb/ We can’t rewind /To a place where ours walls separate and divide.”
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"Lost & Found"
The track entitled “Lost & Found” is a collaboration with the Russian electro rock band Raizer (for which Anton Vladimirov is the vocalist). It starts out with chiming synths and a flowing beat before Anton begins to sing in a smooth, gentle style. The singing here isn’t as rough edged as on some of the tracks and fits the mood of this song. The lyrics speak of the bonds of love and friendship betrayed, but in which the singer is still held by a “hidden silver thread.”
There’s strong emotion in Anton’s voice as he sings, “Lost and found, we're going round, we're going round/ My friend /Lost and found, we're going round, we're tied /Until the end.”
The melody “Lost & Found” on has a more gentle quality and the smooth beat runs through it all. This track has more of a synthpop sensibility to it, rather than rocking hard like “Uprising” does. Both songs are effective, just in different ways.
Robin Adams’ growling, gritty voice defines “Guardian Angel.” He has a real bite in his delivery, serving up big helpings of expression and emotion as he sings, “All I had/ Is all I’d known /All I’d known /Has come undone.” Loss and confusion bleed from his voice as he punches out the lyrics.
The synths that sweep through this track are soaring despite the raggedness of the emotions being expressed in the lyrics and the drums and bass have a strongly visceral quality that is undeniable. I am a fan of the way Robin Adams’ growl is accentuated by the deep well of drums and bass underneath this track.
“Future Frame” starts out with trumpeting synths playing single tones that rise and fall as ripples of synth sound spread out underneath, sweeping like a wind as the bass begins to pulsate. A quick, driven rhythm kicks in and the drums smack you in the chest. Deep pulses of synth and soft choral voices echo through the open spaces in this track. The floating, sweeping sensation moves around the drums, bass and synth arps that leap out through it. There are synths stacked on synths, melodically arpeggiating as the bells and chime tones dance through the track.
The silky smooth, emotionally deep vocals delivered by Megan McDuffee perfectly suit the gentler feeling of “Promise” as she sings about a passion that has burned too brightly, but that might be rekindled again. It contrasts the feeling in the line, “Far too intense/we were captured by each other’s spell” with the chorus, “Moving on from being bitter/Is the hardest thing/Promising to love you better/Is the one I want to keep.” This is a smoothly dancing song that provides a contrast to the growling vocals and shredding guitar on some of the tracks.
One of the most powerful tracks on the album is “Deviant.” It’s full of deep bass, crunching and stuttering synths and roiling stabs of string sound. As the track blossoms, a powerful synth line years and lifts upwards over high strings and a relentless beat comes in, banging hard. The contrasting warmth of the synth melody makes for interesting listening and contrasts markedly with what the title of the track implies. There’s a life and energy to the track that makes it quite compelling.
It's a High Point for 3Force
The mixture of powerful bass, unique and energetic beats, interesting synth sounds, songs with lyrics that ooze emotion and singers who can interpret those emotions and express them strongly makes Divide & Conquer an album that I want to listen to way more than once. I think it marks a high point for 3Force and if their future releases can live up to it, they’ll definitely become a name to look out for in the synthwave genre.