Synth Album Review: "Dead Calm and Zero Degrees" by Hunter Complex
Dead Calm and Zero Degrees is Hunter Complex’s latest album. It has a rich, layered sound that intertwines a fascinating array of different synths and other musical elements to produce a deeply atmospheric listening experience. There’s an intricacy to the ways in which the various sonic elements interact with one another on this album, but everything is tasteful and I feel that the moves Hunter Complex makes are all well-calculated as part of the musical experience.
One of the standout parts of Dead Calm and Zero Degrees is the unique synth sounds that Hunter Complex uses on the album. There are sounds that run the gamut from metallic and more organic sounding xylophone-like sounds to sharply shining chimes. All of these different tones and timbres are used to good effect in generating atmosphere and mood. Sometimes there is sparkle, sometimes sharpness but there’s nothing dull about any of it.
Another factor in this album that I enjoyed was Hunter Complex’s melodic chops. He has written some beautiful, rich and textured melodies for this album that move from bright uplift to more shadowed darkness and encompass feelings of loneliness, melancholy, gentleness and warmth. These feelings are expressed within the space of a single melody quite often as it moves through various phases. It is possible to write melodies that vary without losing cohesion and that happens here a fair bit.
There are many unique beats and percussion sounds that appear on Dead Calm and Zero Degrees. The beats often take unexpected turns, moving in ways that create a lot of interest, sonically speaking. There are also times when there’s the effective use of repetition to create a rather trance-like feeling, so there’s more atmosphere created there as well.The percussion that is able to emphasize different sensations on the album and further help generate powerful mental images.
There’s a generally flowing smoothness to this album. The production has a wonderful touch to it that feels almost “creamy" sometimes how it sounds. It has a richness that underlays everything and creates a feeling of ease, no matter what the tempo or overall mood of the track happens to be. I think having that high level of production quality further enhances the positive aspects of Dead Calm and Zero Degrees.
Now I’ll take the time to run through the tracks that I was most drawn to on the album and discuss the reasons why I felt they especially attracted me to them.
"Dead Calm" opens on layered synths that are warm but not too warm as they drift into space. There’s a deep upwelling of bass that flows underneath those layered sounds as the drums kick in and pulsate to push the track forward. Choir-like synths add a unique quality to the music and there is a feeling of danger lurking in the “dead calm” of the title. The feeling of a rather worrisome kind of becalmed condition seems to permeate this track. I enjoyed the layered complexity of all of the elements in this track.
One of the melodic lines in “Bitter Cold” drew me in with its pained yet gentle melody that drifts through along with varied percussion sounds and a unique beat that skitters under the rising and falling chords that move over the top of it. I also enjoyed the brighter melodic moments on this track that called out warmly and burst through with a sense of hope, despite the bleak subject matter of the song’s title.
“Steel Dynamics” has really cool sounding metallic chimes that glitter over top of a unique xylophone-like sound. I also enjoyed the gruff bass pulse and drifting, airy sweeps of synth tha extend out through the track. There’s a gentleness that is manifested in parts of this track over the throbbing heartbeat of the drums flows along. As the track faded out into a flow of wind, it gave me a strongly ethereal sensation.
There’s a very organic sounding xylophone sound on “Hot Streets” as well. It has a warmth and depth to it as it plays a gently oscillating pattern. Soft sweeps of synth flow underneath those circling xylophone patterns. There’s a rising, delicate melody that moves over the surface of the track, feeling tinged with melancholy. A beat with real motion and energy to it forms to add a propulsive element, but the overall sense is still one of elegant motion. There is nothing heavy or hard about this track.
“We Fly At Dawn” combines a steady throb of drums with long flows and pulses of synth sound. I was drawn to the melody which has a minor modal, Middle Eastern quality to the sound along with the shining synth sounds that keep flowing over the pulsation of bass. I enjoyed the sense of expectation generated by some of the sounds along with the flow of waves and the steady pulse continues on out into the track.
Warmth and air fill “Starcrash” and there’s a feeling of something reverent about it. The delicate starlight of this track’s glowing, shimmering sound is joined by deeper, richer bass tones and everything flows smoothly out of the aether as the track moves along. There are shadings of sadness here as well before the track bursts out into an energetic turn that quickly fades back into melancholy as extended washes of synth and falling rain carry the track to an end.
Some synth-based music that I listen to is all about being fun and playful which I defintely enjoy. Dead Calm and Zero Degrees takes a different, more nuanced approach to the genre but it doesn’t lose sight of great melodies, interesting beats and the ability to paint strong sonic images through the layered interlocking of all of the musical elements that form a cohesive whole.