I’m going to start this post by talking about a Missouri sludge band called The Lion’s Daughter. Now, this may seem like an odd way to start a post that is, ostensibly, about California synthwave duo Dance with the Dead and their new album, Loved to Death, but bear with me here…
Last month, The Lion’s Daughter dropped their new album, Future Cult. The band was widely praised for their attempt to meld metal and synthwave sounds on the album — praise that, unfortunately, I’m not sure was warranted. Full credit to the band for trying something new sonically, but to me, Future Cult felt more like the band took a handful of vaguely cyberpunky sounding synth parts and dropped them over its existing sludge palette. It was less a “melding” and more a “Jackson Pollocking” of the sounds.
I don’t bring this up just to rag on The Lion’s Daughter; rather, it’s to highlight that, despite the immense overlap between the metal and synthwave communities, actually making those two sounds work together on a record is…well, pretty damn hard! The Lion’s Daughter missed the mark, but…hell, so did GosT on his latest album earlier this year. This is a tough landing to stick! But, here’s the thing: Dance with the Dead pulls it off in spades on Loved to Death.
For the uninitiated, Dance with the Dead is the brainchild of Justin Pointer and Tony Kim, two longtime friends from California. That light, airy breed of synthwave we featured last week? Yeah, you won’t find that here. As you might expect from a duo of metalheads and horror buffs, this is synthwave designed to jar you — an often loud, abrasive listening experience that throws you off your bearings just enough to make you vulnerable to all those things that go “bump” in the night. Listen to a DWTD album, and you’re likely to feel like you’ve been given dropped into some sort of futuristic horror flick.
After dabbling in relatively straightforward, melodic darksynth on their debut, Out of Body, then giving their sound a bit more bite on Near Dark, this marks the second full-length running in which it seems DWTD’s exploring the middle ground between those two aesthetics. And while its predecessor, The Shape, did pretty well with that pursuit in its own right, it’s hard not to hear Loved to Death as a further step forward. That’s down to the way Pointer and Kim give you “just enough” of what you want from both their metal and synthwave influences throughout.
Take the opening 1-2 punch of “Go!” and “Into the Shadows,” for example. The duo not only serves up some of their most industrial sounding beats to date — driving, reverb-heavy stuff that moves the song forward without starting to just feel like noise — but they also sprinkle the tunes with perfectly-placed guitar leads and harmony parts. Nick Hipa, guitarist for Wovenwar and [a-certain-other-band-that-certain-metal-sites-very-adamantly-refuse-to-talk-about] [it’s As I Lay Dying] even jumps in on the latter, giving Pointer and Kim’s already solid guitar tandem even more potency.
A few songs further on, “War” marches ahead with machine-gun-like riffs that chug along in lock step with the song’s vehement pace, with descending arpeggios and what, I guess, could be described as a “mini breakdown” before a period of calm that allows the cleaner, more melodic synth parts to steal the spotlight for a bit. “Oracle” is probably the tamest thing here, but even with the extra breathing room it affords the listener, the track still manages to create an enticing, mysterious soundscape.
I could single out additional songs, but here’s the gist of what I’m getting at: Loved to Death is a showcase of just how tasteful a metal-and-synthwave combination can be. By combining those elements for more than just “shock and awe” — though, okay, that’s part of their effect — DWTD makes each part feel like it belongs in the equation, and as a result, everything comes off effortlessly. Let’s hope this album can be a blueprint for anyone dabbling in this kind of combination going forward.
Keep it heavy,