Synthwave Album Review: Hazmat, "Symmetry Theory"
Dark matter, twisting galaxies and ethereal intelligences are all on the menu on Hazmat’s latest album Symmetry Theory. This is music that takes you through the heights and depths of the galaxy while weaving stories of loss, triumph, pain and wisdom. Sometimes it drifts through the aether and other times it growls, throbs and snarls at you. The one thing that it won’t do, or at least it didn’t for me, is leave you cold.
There are two elements about Symmetry Theory that stood out for me. The first is Hazmat’s voice. It is melancholy and full of emotion, lending a certain tremulousness to the lyrics that he sings. There is the same element of poignancy in the lyrics and the two in combination were quite affecting for me emotionally. The second element that really stood out was Hazmat’s guitar work. Whether his guitars thundered and howled or stroked and sobbed, they always brought an additional layer of meaning and power to the songs that featured his playing.
Just as a galaxy can be ethereal and serene or violent and dangerous, so it was with Hazmat’s music on Symmetry Theory. Sometimes I was carried on waves of cosmic energy past towering nebulae and clouds of starstuff and other times I was buffeted by the violent forces that shape stars and planets out of the cold silence of space. The contrast between these two elements is what gives shape and direction to Hazmat’s music on this album.
The production was good on this album. One thing that especially pleased my ears was the crispness of the drums on this album. Everything felt very tight and there was nothing muddy about them. I appreciate the way they acted as propulsion to really impart a sense of motion to Symmetry Theory.
It was tough for me to pick tracks to showcase from this album because I found them to all be an equally good listening experience. I did manage to single out some tracks that were especially strong in my view and I’ll talk about them now.
The album gets off to a strong start with “Bright Matter.” It starts with gently repeating notes floating off into the vast sweep of space. As the percussion kicks in crisply, the track creates the image of flying silently past gigantic structures in space. The piano melody on this track is warm, positive and energizing and the synths behind it only add to the feeling of being bathed in light. Overall, this track made me feel as if I’d been soaring past some of the awe-inspiring sights of the Milky Way.
I found a similar sense of the awe-inspiring vistas of space evoked by "Saint-Nebula."The breathy, flowing synths that open this track set the stage as the pulsating bass and drums establish a solid underpinning. Arpeggios infused with brightness wheel around that beat and the synth melody here is triumphant and majestic. The lyrics weave a story about finding comfort and ease in the cosmic magic of the universe. It’s an anthem to the mysteries of the universe and I found it quite compelling.
Metal is inextricably linked to synthwave and on "The World Eater" the metal roots of the genre come thundering in. The track starts out with a deceptively warm sound but the moment the guitars come in, everything’s instantly dark and heavy. Right away, the track starts to roar and thump, drums battering away underneath a gut-punching guitar. Into this storm, Hazmat’s voice breaks in with it’s softer tones, but the lyrics are dark. The guitar solo is sawtoothed and screaming. I also wanted to make a note of the rather deep, dark organ solo that adds a certain gravitas to the proceedings.
One of the songs of contrasts that I enjoyed on this album was "The Forgotten One." It begins with an upwelling of warm synths as well as a background distortion before a sobbing, delicate acoustic guitar enters the scene. Hazmat’s trembling voice sings about the forgotten one who is broken but who will rise again. The acoustic guitar plays a minor key melody that has a contemplative quality, melancholy oozing from each note. The intensity of the track eventually ramps up another notch as the signature growling electric guitar adds an intense edge to the melody.
After listening to Symmetry Theory, I had to sit back and let it all sink in a little bit. The intensity of this voyage through the stars was something that stayed with me. Hazmat’s emotion-filled voice, his thoughtful lyrics and his soundscapes that ran the gamut from dark and doom-laden to airy, ethereal and warm all contributed to the imagery and sensations that lingered as the last notes faded.