Synthwave Album Review: Dimi Kaye, "Not Holding Back"
‘80s hard rock and heavy metal are two of the genres that underpin synthwave. Along with the analog synths of ‘80s pop, those two elements strongly define the backdrop to the synthwave genre.
Dimi Kaye has embraced the hard-rocking side of synthwave on Not Holding Back. His strong rhythm guitar work soars and growls throughout the record, trading solos and melody lines with warm, expansive synths.
For those who prefer their synthwave more heavily focused on the “synth” side of the wave, this album may not quite be to your taste. My ears are open to the full spectrum of synthwave, so I was pretty comfortable with the heavier guitar emphasis. It isn’t something I listen to a lot of, but I certainly didn’t find it a problem. It’s just another approach to the music that’s equally valid.
Dimi Kaye’s Guitar Work
It cannot be stated enough how strongly his album is defined by Dimi Kaye’s guitar work. He creates a range of different moods and sounds using his guitars to soar, drive or snarl, depending on the sound that each track is going for. His solos are slick and intricate, propulsive or more slow burning, depending on the energy of each track. Luckily, Dimi Kaye has the musical chops to pull off such a guitar-forward synthwave album.
The Album's Synth Work
That’s not to say that there aren’t solid synth moments too. The choices of synth sounds and melodic lines are a good counterbalance to the more biting guitar. The distinctive warm and open sounds created by synthesizers add flavour to the tracks. I would say here, though, that the synths mostly act as support for Dimi Kaye’s smokin’ guitar.
I’d also like to point out the role that the drums play on Not Holding Back. The solidity of the beat and the propulsive throb that the drum sounds have on this album really sets the stage and allow the interesting melodies and harmonies to shine through here.
My Favorite Tracks
The tracks that have vocals on them work quite well. I think that having Swayze sing on "The Truth" was a good choice. He’s got a voice that really fits the more rock-oriented sound that Dimi Kaye has created on Not Holding Back and everything slots into that vibe as well. I also quite enjoyed Slaver’s Bane for its lyrical content, as well as the way in which Dimi Kaye and Nar’Thaal share vocal duties here.
"Slaver’s Bane," as I mentioned earlier, stood out to me for its vocals, but I also enjoyed the contrast between the powerful guitar lines and the warm, shifting synths. The guitar solo has that real rock flavour to it and the energetic synth solo that kicks in was also a treat for the ears.
"Not Holding Back"
The title track, "Not Holding Back," was also one that I enjoyed. The melody of this track was so strong, warm and uplifting. I felt that this track had a very full, deep sound and did not “hold back” at all on delivering a solid musical punch. The solo that Dimi Kaye delivered on this track was intricate and exciting.
The final track that really grabbed my ears was "Speed Gear." I loved the powerful driving beat and chunky guitar underpinning the synth melody. I really got the vibes of a mid-‘90s arcade racing game from this track. It has a true sensation of speed and Dimi Kaye’s intricate guitar work on this track was top notch. I kept getting flashes of the graphics from the game Ridge Racer popping into my head as I listened.
Should You Listen to It?
If you like your guitar hot and your synths soaring, I’d say that Not Holding Back is a synthwave album for you. Some might not be as keen on the guitar-forward nature of this album. But, for me, it was definitely a fun and enjoyable listen. I’m always happy when someone explores elements within the genre in such a bold way. The only way the music grows is by pushing boundaries.