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Synth Album Review: "Departure Zero" by Efilheim and Guests

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

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Overall Album Impressions

Efilheim’s Departure Zero has jagged edges mingled with feather-light moments. It seethes with colossal power at times and at others is full of pained emotion. There’s a blend of well-considered synths, massive percussion and hard-hitting guitar performances on the album, along with NeonNoir’s vocal chops and songwriting abilities. All in all, Departure Zero is a shadowed, but surprisingly melodic cyberpunk journey.

The depth of contrasting sounds and emotions is a strong factor in my enjoyment of Departure Zero. Efilheim balances raw, raging musical moments that lacerate the ears with passages of softer, entirely more gentle sounds and contrasts uplifting melodies with ferocious aural attacks to create balance and sonic interest as the tracks unfold.

Another reason for my enjoyment of the album is the guest performances on it. MisterMyr’s superb guitar skills are on intricate, shredding display as he adds a smoking solo to “Ignite” that complements the overall feeling in the song. NeonNoir wrote the lyrics for “Ignite” and “Silence” as well as singing on both pieces. His songwriting is emotive and full of strong imagery and his voice captures his words and expresses them with palpable feeling.

Efilheim displays a keen ear for choosing and combining synths and other instruments on Departure Zero that adds to the complexity of the soundscapes on it. There are bright, round synths that mix with jagged, snarling sounds above massive drumbeats and chest-thumping bass. Through these elements, delicate synths trail only to be driven by aggressive, heavy guitar that brings the darkness back again.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Ignite” comes into being as growling bass and swirling sounds become a pounding guitar and drum assault. The guitar slashes into the music in a ferocious tide and now NeonNoir’s strong vocals leap in as the guitars and drums surge.

Elevated, digital-sounding synth carries a more uplifting melodic line over as the massive bass and aggressive drums add power. A guitar slices through the angry tide to add a razor-edged quality which I enjoy. Digital-sounding synth adds a tinge of warmth and the gigantic bass tide flows more gently.

The lead synth leaps into the track in a full-sounding, wheeling solo followed by MisterMyr’s grinding, wildly flying guitar solo that shreds through the music in a mad rush. The guitar spins and arcs as the drums and bass batter. Now the lead synth and guitar sing together in a rising, uplifting melody and NeonNoir’s expressive vocals are supported by the fierce, battering drum and bass tide.

Our narrator begins the song but talking about taking a path “hazed by your own mind” and breathing in “stranger air” that blurs one’s vision. He asks the audience to think for themselves and realize “this isn’t paradise.” The narrator exhorts us to find the truth that is “forgotten deep” and to “let your soul ignite.”

The storyteller points out that “this never felt alright” and so we ought not to run from the fight and instead “ride towards the light” and once again ignite our souls. He goes on to talk about the fear of staring into the dawn “with nothing to find.” Our narrator encourages us to “take a look back at yourself” and if we aren’t “what you want to be” then we have to "break the shell, reach to the core” and set our souls on fire.

Our narrator talks about how, in life, we can “fall in the darkness…your life feeling spark-less” and feel shackled by the paths we’ve chosen. He advises us to “set fire and burn them…set fire and burn them all down.” The storyteller goes on to say we ought to “grip on tight and pull apart your inner stranglehold.” We need to let loose a scream so we can “feel the change that will appear.” The narrator calls on us to wake up and remember “the craving from within.” He tells us to push towards “the dream afar, let your soul ignite.”

A guitar moves mistily in the distance in an oscillating pattern as “Exodus” begins to grow in power with a pounding kick drum and swelling bass launching into rapid forward motion. The medium-high lead synth carries a yearning melody that reaches up and out while still holding some pained emotion. I am drawn to the depth of feeling in that melody.

Jagged bass rapidly grits through the music along with throbbing drums. Guitar arpeggios move with precision and power, as they switch instruments to sparkling synth they continue to arc rapidly. A tide of heavy guitar smashes and surges while arpeggios glint and leap.

Sharp, agitated bass cascades as the lead guitar’s hard edges lacerate the music in falling lines. The lead synth rises in a melody full of loss and hope, bursting into a more slowly pulsing section but one not lacking in power as the guitar, drums and bass all interlock into an aural assault before the track comes to an end on quiet flow.

Gliding, smooth bass washes slowly underneath a higher, ethereal sonic flow as the impactful bass keeps up a solid rumble and the drums throb as “Aether’s Plan” begins. Oscillating bass supports a brassy, medium-high synth carrying a melody mingling gentleness with hopeful feelings as the guitar slices in with a harder edge.

A hollow, round-toned synth now carries an ancient sounding melody that is creates a feeling of adventure and exploration which I find compelling. The sharp guitar cuts in rapid, aggressive bursts and the “A” section synth moves with sunlit brightness while the drums and bass push on. After a drum fill, wildly vibrating guitar cascades out over the drum and bass throb to add more dynamism.

A rough-edged synth howls out over the raging guitar, the earlier tranquility gone. There’s a drift into delicately gliding synth backing the pipe-like, hollow synth carrying the timeless melody. The propulsive drum and bass drive moves the track forward again. The track ends on battering power and fades out.

“Silence” opens on a gliding background of diffuse synth shaped by a steadily moving, unique sound pulse that flows through. Weighty drums throb to support NeonNoir’s strong, rich voice carrying a dynamic melody while light chimes sparkle. The guitar and drums interlace in an uneven pulse to effectively create a slightly unsettled feeling.

Trumpeting synth rises over NeonNoir's well-performed vocals in a full, climbing line. Guitars burst and the drumbeat throbs while synths flash in sunny light along with brief shimmers. The vocals rise in a wandering line and the guitar solo is jazzy and expressive as it twists out. The guitars, drums and bass create a bouncing pattern as the resonant vocals are more laid-back before the song ends.

This song begins as the narrator paints a bleak picture of driving far out “beyond the friendly light” and as he stops his car, he realizes that “I am now all alone.” He talks about moving out into the wilderness as he fuels “more of my own bitterness” as he strays away from “what is left of my home."

In the chorus, our narrator talks about being unable to see “the mountains in the sky and the rivers in the clouds” as those rivers “flow down” into his eyes. He says he can’t hear “the silence growing…feel the colour of the stars or the emptiness of space” as that emptiness pulls him by his arms.”

Our storyteller talks about the desert sparking a “wild glow” that appears to be growing from “the other side.” The glow vanishes as he walks back “with a moan” and now he’s going down a well-trodden path and “making circles with no aftermath.” It’s just another day to “dive into the unknown.”

Ultimately he knows that “the sun is never really coming down” and it’s just a “noise forever lost within my mind, buzzing softly, an endless beat in my bones.”

“The Machine” starts off as a thin, harsh sound sweeps and gently reverberating, bubbling synth begins to swell into the background. A continual high, metallic sound cuts in and arpeggios flicker on bright, string like synth. Now the throbbing drum and bass pulse of adds strong propulsion to the music.

The lead synth has a trumpeting majesty as it carries a victorious melody out over the massive power below it. I enjoy the way in which the guitar leaps in, adding more triumphant energy as it whirls in quick, hard lines over the bursting percussion.

A warm, medium-high synth with a string-like sound plays a wandering melody while the guitar climbs in massive blocks to add real dynamic energy. The lead synth soars up again and the drums and bass increase the feeling of building drama. The guitar reaches higher and higher, a series of notes rising to the stars wile the rhythm attacks and fades.

Fragile, distant arpeggios shimmer smoothly into open space as full synth spins in rippling motion underneath to start off “Epilogue.” A melancholy synth carries an aching melody over the huge percussive power below it, the gigantic bass lifting it as the drums smash and shatter. We flow back into undulating arpeggios, fragile sounds and finally into silence. This moment of ending is an ideal way to close out the album.

Conclusion

Departure Zero has undeniable cyberpunk sensibilities but they exist in combination with emotional lyrics, layered synth sounds and melodic moments. The raw aggression and darkness is tempered by more measured sounds to create an enjoyable listening experience.

© 2022 Karl Magi