Synth Album Review: "TROM" by Mike Templar
Mike Templar’s TROM project is a multimedia exploration of a dystopian future world through music, the written word and other media. The musical component of TROM is this album I’m reviewing right now. It has a futuristic synth sound palette, unique elements of percussion and instrumental choices that go beyond the usual for a synth-based album as well as melodies that convey emotion and an overall originality that I enjoyed hearing.
TROM Album Review
As befits the soundtrack to a rather dystopian, cyberpunk inflected novel TROM uses sounds that speak of the future. There are sounds that evoke technology, the bleakness of space and some rough-edged and glitchy moments that create imagery that is broken and damaged. All of these elements combine in a cohesive feeling of a future full of high tech but also plagued by dysfunction and decay. It forms an interesting backdrop to the story Mike Templar wants to tell.
I was also intrigued by some of the other sounds Mike Templar used on the album. There’s even one track using brass and strings, but he also has a synth evoking a sax that comes into play. The percussion sounds had some moments that sounded very “world music” with all kinds of cool timbres to them. It adds an element of interest and some aural diversity to the music, lifting it beyond the typical sounds used on synth albums.
There was also a nicely subtle use of electric guitar on the album, often just as a way to accent certain passages and to provide another aurally engaging element to the music. However there’s also one superb shredding, howling solo that stands out on "Emergency" and certainly adds more energy and motion to that track.
Emotion shines through on the melodic content of TROM. There are bright moments of triumph, melodies that are twisting and devious as well as others that evoke music from other eras and from many cultures. Mike Templar has written well-constructed melodic content that manages to hold the listener’s ear and also touch on emotional points that add character and texture to the overall feeling of the album.
This is, after all, a soundtrack and as such it needs to tell a story. In conjunction with the novel, this is a way to add more depth and flesh out the emotional content of the story. I found that the musical support that was provided by the album made me want to go delve into the story and explore the world that Mike Templar built in the novel.
My Favourite Tracks
"The Escape (Intro)" has a sense of drama about it as high synths playing tense notes open the track. I enjoyed how the track began to change shape as a lightly dancing drumbeat is joined by a cascading synth line and metallic percussion. The sense of tension returns with a writhing, twisting high synth and a repeating guitar pattern that moves through the music. The vocal samples add to the sensation of a situation where rapid response is urgently required.
There are unique percussion elements and a wandering, winding melody played on a distorted guitar on "Inner Enemy" that I thoroughly enjoyed. I also was drawn to to the feeling of the metallic chimes on the track along with the dark edge of the bass. This track had a good energy from its driving beat and I was also interested in how there are warm notes rising through the darker bass and propulsive drums to create balance.
“Illusions” has a guitar melody that holds my ear as it flutters, leaps and jumps through the track with a devious sounding bass moves along with long flows of warmer synth. There is an almost ghostly feeling to the guitar as the relentless bass pulse moves underneath it and there are moments of float and shimmer that nicely move through to add to the imagery suggested by the track’s title.
There are a wide range of feelings and auditory sensations generated on “Speculum” from an almost sinister dark bass to a meandering lead synth line and from bright flashes of chimes to expanding patterns of guitar notes that weave through the music. I liked how the steady beat and bass anchors an emerging melody. The break to electric bass and a jazzy-sounding synth that has sax-like elements allows for a solo that has some elements of world music to it adds another layer of interest to the music.
“The Resolution of Mind” is full of unique tones from the warm synth with a pipe-like sound that opens the track to the noise of something metallic striking rhythmically. I found the flowing melody that moves in a cascade to be quite compelling. The way deep bass flows through the track while warming washes of sound move over it was also a draw for me. This is a textured sounding piece of music with many elements coming together cohesively.
The ethereal waves of sound and breath and the sound of a heartbeat added an organic feeling to the opening of “Ship Repair” before glitchy, distorted synth notes moved into the track. I was enamoured of how they made everything feel nervous and a bit experimental. The break in which the music changes and becomes glowing and sparkling adds a wonderful contrast against the darker, more twisting parts of the music.
“Shiny Shindig” is the intermezzo piece of the album and it has a unique combination of classical music and East Asian influences in it that stood out for me. There is a string section along with what sounds like synth cello playing behind it. I found the slow but powerful beat rather hypnotic and those pentatonic scalar sounds added a freshness to the sound that was quite appealing to me.
If an artist is going to have vocals on an album that is otherwise instrumental, they’d better be good and Millennium Falck’s guest singing on Emergency definitely qualifies in that regard. He’s got a strong, expressive voice and it works well with the feeling and sound of this song. The dramatic brass opening starts the song off with a bang. I was also into the groovy beat and shimmering, shining synths that dance into the music, along with the shredding guitar solo that jumps into the music.
This is a song of contrasts in emotions and tones. The lines, "You thought it was easy, you thought you’d win the game. You think you’re so special, you think I’m gonna save you so tell me your secrets, tell me what is going on in your head” have a certain quality of criticism in them as does the line, “Why so serious? Is there an emergency?” In contrast to this the chorus pleads, “I’m in a crisis, anyone can help me. I’m going to fight it, find a way.” It was an interesting contradiction to explore in the words.
TROM is part of a massive creative undertaking by Mike Templar. The end result is an interesting, engaging and musically unique journey through the world of his imagination. I am definitely going to delve into his novel and learn more about how the music and the themes of the novel interact.