Synthwave Sunday: Dance with the Dead, The Shape
I’ve been promoting the very best (and the most metal) synthwave every Sunday for the better part of eight months and exploring every little nook and cranny of the genre seven days a week for even longer. While I won’t say I’ve ever had to settle by featuring any sub-par acts here, it’s been getting increasingly difficult to find new ones who are worthy. Genre n00bs and naysayers (especially tr00er than tr00 metalheads) may think it’d be easy for anyone to sit in front of a keyboard and a computer and construct a bangin’ synthwave jammer, but that couldn’t be any less true: synthwave is a song-based genre, and truly great songwriting eludes all but the best artists in any genre.
And then the kings come back around and show everyone how the fuck it’s done. Orange County duo Dance with the Dead returned earlier this month with The Shape, their sixth full-length release since 2013 (!), and it’s every bit as relentless, unstoppable and unshakeable as anything released in the genre over the past year.
And fuck! It goes hard as hell, too. “Her Ghost” reminds me why I got into synthwave in the first place: buzzsaw synths that slice and dice, abeat that pounds like a viking chopping wood, giant-sized hooks that’d lure even the most stubborn, wise fish out from under his hiding spot, and real-deal, bonafide, chugged, distorted guitar riffs that’d feel just as natural coming from the hands of a grizzled longhair as they do here. Metal’s grimy fingerprints are all over this album, as with the neo-classical arpeggio that comprises the main verse pattern in “Horizon,” or the pounding drum fill intro of “Riot.” And that Van Halen-style, two-handed guitar solo on “Diabolic?” Christ. It’s as if Dance with the Dead took to heart what I said about them last year — that they’re more on the dance side of the synthwave spectrum — and said, “Screw you, Vince. We can metal too.” And so they did. The only break from the album’s breakneck pace comes on “Adrift,” a marvelously creepy, dreamy interlude that sounds like it came right off the score for Twin Peaks.