Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.
Mike Templar’s Digital Death examines the corrosive role played by the technological dominance of society through cold, harsh and robotic sonic qualities and contrasts between strong melodic content with a feeling of threat and imminent danger lurking in the background. His music seethes with intensity, but still leaves room to have fun.
One of the strongest elements of Digital Death is the soundscape that Mike Templar creates with his palette of synths. It combines digital harshness, hollow sounds and moments of intense melancholy with shimmer and glow to move across a conflicted, emotionally fraught and threatening soundscape. I feel it captures the sentiments of the album well.
Once again, the #synthfam comes through with superb guest contributions to the album from CZARINA, Strike Eagle and The Institute 91’. Each of these talented artists adds their own unique sensibility to the music, deepening and adding more strength to the emotional content of the album. They increase the already high quality of the music further still.
Digital Death also has an underlying sense of melancholy that I find compelling. One expects a cyberpunk album to be shadowed and harshly digital, but there’s also a palpable sense of loss and disconnection that comes through. I felt it as a kind of mourning for the loss of social cohesion and the profound isolation caused by over-reliance on technology.
My Favourite Tracks Analyzed
“Breakthrough” comes into life with cold, robotic female vocals and a threatening bassline that growls into the music along with a rebounding, bouncing drum beat. Dense waves of thick sound break into a minor key melody that’s honed to a cutting edge, carried on a trumpeting synth. Angular blocks of moving synth are sliced by bright metallic chimes.
A robotic male voice shifts over the bouncing drums. I enjoy the contrast between lower slabs of synth with a gritty edge carrying a powerful melody and an elevated synth that howls over the underlying weight. There’s a break into drifting synth, a steady kick drum throb and glittering chimes. Once again the darker, heavier pulse moves in and elevated synth cries out and twists over hollow, tapping percussion.
Right off the bat, I like the ironic twist of the old time radio sample that kicks off “Pregroove.” Sunny bursts of synth light and a solidly throbbing beat with a disco feeling move in before a tight, elevated and distorted synth plays a jumping line that twines through the track. There’s strength in the drums that underpin a bubbling, popping synth. A steady bass pulse keeps driving the track forward.
I enjoy the sound of the bubbly synth line as it’s joined by a medium-low synth playing a repeating pattern. The bass line is active and rough-edged while the twisting, popping synth line bounces. A guitar calls out over reverberating bass shifting below a dancing, shiny melody carried on a twisted synth. Hard edged percussion adds more weight and propulsion to the track. The oscillating, moving pulse fades out before the track ends on the “A” section again.
“Turn Off The Screen (feat. Strike Eagle)” starts off with shining, metallic bursts of synth notes joined by a throbbing, bouncing beat and Strike Eagle’s strong, emotive voice, elucidates a warning against being sucked into a virtual world, detached from reality. The driving bass breaks into an energetic pulse and bright synth trumpets cut into the track.
There’s a strong caution in the lyrics against the direction we are taking. There's a funky, jazzy breakdown with shimmering trumpets and then the music bursts back into the chorus with a more uplifting message and now the piano and shiny trumpet move in an intertwined, connected line.
This song is a stark warning about the dangers of being subsumed into a techno-dystopia. The image of the “cold blank stare” of a device’s screen is chilling as “you fade away into your online life.” The device holds you there, “preoccupied, wasting life” as you won’t go outside and see that “there’s more to this if you flip the script.”
The narrator urges his audience to turn off the screen and escape “that cold reality” that forces you to live in a dream world. Our narrator reminds us that we are “powerful, loved and so much more.”
He again calls for us to go outside because “there’s so much more to life.” He adds, “The future's analogue you'll see” so we should “hit the streets” and let nature be our “dopamine.” We must resist being enslaved by our machines.
In searching for affirmation from “comments, shares and likes” we are warned to break the chains because “they won’t contain the spark of your own life.”
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The soft trickle of rain is joined by robotic sounds and a round pulse of rich, oscillating synth opens “Gates of Xylanthia.” Jagged sonic edges cut underneath the synths over top and a deep, steady drum beat supports the track. A gritty charge of guitar snarls into the track over that steady heartbeat of drums. Descending, sweeping synth carries out in a dominating melody before a gong sounds.
The guitar’s feral voice moves as the beat propels it forward. I enjoy how the delicate, airy synth brushes the track with a light touch before the harder, shadowed throb of the bass is matched by heavy drums. A brighter glow of a synth adds a warmer, more hopeful feeling as it carries the melody, over the weight below it. The guitar’s aggression moves along with a flash of distorted synth before a rush of wind and a slowly turning arpeggio comes in and fades into silence.
“Digital Death” begins with a music box chime carrying a lost and forlorn melody along with a distant pulse of bass and the smooth ticking of metallic drums. I am drawn to the way Mike Templar uses the emotional associations of a music box to create mournful feelings in this track.
The beat breaks and stutters before lush strings, full of sadness and ache, shift below that lost chiming music box. A guttural growl of guitar adds a harder edge to the track. Once more, the hurting, wandering melody cries out over the harsher sounds below it. The strings are so pained, full of loss and dejection over the growl below them. The track fades out on the simple, emotive melody of the chimes.
Churning digital sounds, a hollow background and shaker percussion along with a sharp string chime open up “Ghostly Whispers.” CZARINA’s voice has an operatic power, deeply expressive and limned in shadow as a hard-hitting, cybernetic pulse of synth beats and bass shifts underneath it. A warmer section comes in with ghostly voices shifting as CZARINA’s vocals emote and ache, I enjoy the way the chimes glitter and rise, contrasting with the more intense quality of the vocals.
A sense of understanding and emotional awareness fills the lyrics of this song. The narrator wonders what she can say to “sympathize with the sadness I see in your eyes?” She recognizes that what they “seem to symbolize” and she’s “shaken inside."
It’s “like thunder in the night” as she questions what to say to empathize. There’s a powerful image in the lines of, “ghostly whispers trailing behind those sad eyes.” A sense of kinship finishes the song in the words, “hold me closer to you, sharing in this deafening silence.”
“The Last Battle” kicks off with a swelling sweep of synth that flows out behind the strong beat as a drone of digital sound moves behind a vibrating oscillation. A steady, deep bass throb moves with the hissing percussion as a melodic pattern, shining and full of a sense of muted hope, repeats. A ghostly sound flows around it and there’s a break to vibrating, dry sounding and springy synth line.
I like the auditory textures in this track as they blend and mingle. A rougher-edged synth drifts through, imbued with a hint of melancholy, as the note pattern moves and the drums keep pulsing. The vibrating synth throb returns as dramatic chords climb and then the lost melody is joined by a moving bass line that bounces through the track. The drums pulse distantly and we fade on chiming glow.
A strongly retro beat moves through the track and an active bass line is joined by jazzy piano chords, hand claps and drums to bring “No Game” to life. Shimmering synth chords are broken by a robotic voice repeating “it’s no game, it’s no game at all.” Flashes of synth rise and shiny piano moves before the wandering, nasal and ornamented melodic lined dances out over the beat’s throb. I enjoy the cool, crystal sound of the trumpeting lead synth as the “A” section comes back in again, all energy and light.
“Digital Frontier” commences with distantly drifting, isolated notes with a soft crackle behind them. A distant, metallic rattling sound hovers in the background as sweeping synth chords flow out. Far off bells sound and the groovy beat hits under the gritty synth sweep flowing along. I like the way in which the beat’s groove shapes the track below the gliding piano notes.
A repeating, dense synth carries a hypnotic pattern of notes as elevated, full and glimmering synth sings out with another delicate, aching melodic line. The track has a wavy feeling to it and the solid drums thump and pulse. Fragile piano moves with a lost feeling as minor key strings rise and deep bass growls below their richness, tinged by darkness. The melody has a timeless feeling to it with a folk music quality to it.
The voice over talks about the way in which as an apex predator, the shark survives and thrives on its instincts, but in captivity they struggle to survive. The narrator adds, “Man is no different” because human beings had to also rely on our instincts for most of our history.
He adds that we have manipulated the terrain to the point that “much like the shark cast off into a tank we have cast ourselves into a prison of our own doing” and because “we can’t see the walls…we choose to ignore them.”
He concludes ominously, “For not only have we forgone the waters we are accustomed to, we have changed our sustenance, and our reason for being…!"
Sharp-edged, metallic, distorted synth is joined by rocking guitar and a hard-hitting, thick beat to start “Bit Shuffle.” Elevated, sharply shining notes and a metallic synth twinkles over the active bassline as the guitar gutturally grunts.
I am enamoured of the funky, cool bass line that jumps in under the shifting, swirling background. The bass throb has a nasal quality as a repeating, melodic pattern jangles into the track along with hollow, popping percussion. The wandering, twisting melodic pattern is accented by the metallic chimes and the thick, insistent depths below it before silence falls.
Digital Death is a sweeping, powerful album full of melancholy, threat and a warning to heed when it comes to the perils of the digital world and what it might do to us as a species. It has musical depth, great guest artists and a strong musical personality that I was drawn toward.