They say to never judge a book by its cover, but, with Synth Eternal, Memory Smoker proves the rule also applies to little red cassettes. If the eccentric artwork and the even more baffling track titles are anything to go by, one could be forgiven for considering this album yet another slice from the retro synthwave pie that artists like Perturbator have been gorging themselves on lately.
As so often happens with prejudices, such presuppositions prove inaccurate. Synth Eternal is something of a misnomer; yes, synth is involved, but Memory Smoker’s latest release is fundamentally an experimental descent into post-industrial noise. The Boise, Idaho-based project drags itself through hypnotic dirges of fuzz and frequencies at a snail’s pace, steadily building tension as the music progresses towards some vague, indefinable yet altogether unsettling destination.
Despite the pervasive computerized tones, Synth Eternal maintains an umbilical link with the natural realm. Black metal wretches are scattered throughout the album, adorning harsh feedback six minutes into Side A before reappearing over bubbling water effects and ear-piercing blasts of electronic noise. A ridiculously reverb-heavy mix adds an earthy, primal quality to the vocals, implanting an organic quality amidst the calamity of techno-horror industrialism. Rather than an attempt at intimidation, these shrieks instead suggest an intense sadness; a cry for help in a hellish miasma which, crushed beneath the sheer sonic weight hanging over it, will likely remain unanswered. Though sparse, the vocals do break up Synth Eternal’s monotone electronic foundation.
As a result, the album lends itself to a pseudo-narrative interpretation, painting mental pictures of lumbering beasts slouching through a darkened wilderness, coloured by a constant synthesized fuzz. These dichotomized horrors of mechanical malaise and biologically rooted anxiety coalesce into a surreal landscape that is defined by the suffering of its invisible inhabitants. It’s an overused comparison, but one almost expects Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s sultry tones to burst into a pop-rock sing-song; so reminiscent of Akira Yamaoka’s soundtracks is Synth Eternal.
Synth Eternal simmers at a consistent rate throughout, occasionally expelling wayward noise and the aforementioned metallic howls without ever truly boiling over in a ‘thrilling’ way. Memory Smoker hit their creative zenith shortly before the halfway mark, reaching a disturbing crescendo from which the tape spends its remaining half-hour descending. However, this is an anomaly—a blip in the matrix. Synth Eternal remains a slow burn, and such deviations from the morose pace are a semi-exciting exception to the down-tempo rule.
Totalling just under one hour, Synth Eternal outstays its welcome, like that one dinner guest who lingers for an hour then two, refusing to take the hint as you discuss your previous night’s poor sleep. Memory Smoker’s repetition is a double-edged sword, achieving the hypnotic, disconcerting perception that it shoots for at the expense of innovation or progression from its artistic vision. Although which sections to edit out may not be obvious, this album is simply too languid to warrant an entire hour of listening time. Taken separately as halves, each side of Synth Eternal is a perfect length. Altogether, it’s a stretch.
Intentionally slovenly and without much in the way of exploration, Synth Eternal is at once an intriguing debut release and something of a damp squid, like an interesting but ultimately incidental side-project from Nurse with Wound or the Residents. Clearly a creative project with aspirations, Memory Smoker is a name to remember.
01) Throbbing Goblin
02) Snake Skinnersssssssssss
03) High Fiefdom
04) Pure Skull Control
05) National Merit Skull Scholar
06) Real Scrolls
07) Real Spells
08) Goblin Whale Hunt
09) Too Drunk to Kill
10) Public Transit Nightmare
11) Child Junkie
12) Cleaned Guns