Synth Album Review: "High Tech Low Living" by Terrordyne
Terrordyne’s latest album High Tech Low Living creates a swirling, dense atmosphere infused with tension and darkness as it tells the tale of a world divided by technology into haves and have nots. This is a dystopic album that produces a portrait of a world full of danger, darkness and paranoia, but one that is also leavened by moments of light and glow, delicacy and sadness. This is a complex evocation of a future world riven even more than it already is by technology.
A powerful sense of this techno-dystopian world’s atmosphere is created on High Tech Low Living. Everything about the album is drenched in shadows, only broken by occasional moments of flickering light that shine through the blackness. There is a sense of a broken world, full of shadows, with the occasional moment of something that might be hopeful touching that near complete darkness.The combination of the overall soundscape with heavy bass and percussion along with the choice of synths all produce imagery that is tense, dark and shifting.
There are synths on High Tech Low Living that are full of glitch and crunch, some that spread a high tension through the album as they wind and twist above the darkness and others that are warm and gentle, providing some relief from the unremittingly oppressive atmosphere that permeates much of the album. There is also a strong component of what I’d call technological synth sound that helps paint a picture of the extreme digital divide in the world of the album.
The bass and drums on the album are especially hard hitting, even the slower tempo tracks still have drums and bass that really punch in them. That punchy weight drives the music forward and also provides it with the necessary sense of heaviness and danger that lurks around High Tech Low Living and again builds up the atmospheric sensibilities of the album.
Another element to High Tech Low Living that I want to mention is the balance of elements on it. The overall feeling is one of darkness and threat, but I was taken by how Terrordyne gave us a rest and some more delicate sounds on tracks like “Don’t Go Out At Night” and “Titan (Interlude). Sometimes unrelenting darkness can tire a listener out, so getting a bit of a rest helps things feel a great deal more coherent.
I will now run down those tracks that I most enjoyed on the album and discuss the reasons that I found them especially compelling or interesting.
“Isolation” is a track that is drowning in a portentous atmosphere of dread. There’s a xylophone-like synth playing arps which shine like brittle glass as a hard, steady beat throbs into the track.The balance between the depths underneath and the high, tightly wound synth above ramps up the feeling of a moment when you feel someone is behind you but when you look, there’s no one there. The feeling of dread grabs the listener along with that diaristic narration, setting the scene for this dystopic vision. That track finishes on a repeated high synth sound that only adds more tension.
There is a gut-wrenching sense of wrongness in "Neurolink" that is created by a sharp edged synth playing a twitchy melody that wraps the track in hungry tendrils. The mixture of sweeping dark synths and stomach-punching drums is counterbalanced by the tense high synths. Weight and high strung synth sounds are the hallmarks of this track. The relentless beat only drives the track onwards with greater force. Again there’s also an effective use of vocal samples here to further increase the sense of shadow in the atmosphere of the track.
"Don’t Go Out At Night" is one of the tracks on the album that allows some warmth and light to seep into the track. The lovely, airy melody has a sense of something delicate about it moves through the track. The warmth of the melody contrasts with the darkness of the bass and the ear-grabbing rhythm of the drums underneath it.
There is a glow about this track hat makes it a nice respite from the weight of some of the other tracks. There is just the edge of something threatening, however, touching just under that beautiful melody. The vocal sample moving in does add a certain sense of strangeness before we make it back to that lambent melody at the end of the track.
I was a fan of "Titan (Interlude)" because of the complexity and balance of the track. The track starts off with gentle synths that hang suspended over an airy drift of melancholy warmth. They are carried on shifting depths that flow like the slow eddies in a deep river.
Everything in this track captures a delicate feeling although there is a certain sort of ancient power in what sounds like taiko drums throbbing beneath it. The track grows in power as it reaches toward the end and as it closes, there’s a sensation of massive power emanating from the track.
“Nightcrawler - Blood Rage” begins with a throbbing beat and minor key, churning synths. The beat has a good strong groove to it and small metallic sounds move in the background of the music. Now a threat-filled melody moves into the track, echoing above the beat below. There’s an easy moving feeling to the music, despite the darkness that it holds. There’s a chiming synth segment of this track that has a subtle menace about it which I really found enjoyable.
There are a number of elements that drew me toward “High Tech Low Living” including a sense of worried tension that moves through the track, a technological beat that slams and thuds through it and synths that skip and surge over that beat. There are also moments of sadness in the melody that drifts and wanders through the track. The end result conveyed a mixture of pain, worry and fear to me as I listened to it.
High Tech Low Living is an album that uses music to tell a vivid story and paint powerful mental images. Terrordyne has managed to combine tension, darkness and fear with some moments that are quite heart-wrenching in their gentleness and beauty. As a whole, I found myself pulled into the sonic storytelling and held until the last track of the album played to a close.