In my adolescence, I loved staying up late to watch whatever horror films cable television deemed unsuitable for daytime consumption. Whether it was an old-school gem like Nightmare on Elm Street or absolute trash like Pinata: Survival Island, it was all thrilling to me, greatly enhanced by the blackness of the silent house, lit solely by the macabre images unfolding on screen. As much as I love horror films, they have long since ceased to be as darkly mystifying. Yet, the atmosphere presented on GosT’s Possessor brought the memories back in waves. A bewildering combination of synthwave, horror soundtracks, and extreme metal, Possessor instantly recalled the captivating schlock of the after-midnight movies from my youth with its similarly commanding presence, even if its spell is somewhat inconsistent.
Compared to something like the rain-slicked, neon-drenched soundscapes of Perturbator, GosT doesn’t really bring anything new to the table in terms of pure synthwave. Its innovation is born from the unconventional elements added to the traditional brew; you’ll find brain melting faux-guitars and blastbeats to violently disrupt the flow of the driving, synth-based passages, with everything soaked in an atmosphere of classic 80’s that’s dripping with the essence of John Carpenter. Like Disasterpeace (composer of the excellent It Follows) before him, GosT displays a palpable reverence for Carpenter’s work and the horror genre in general, with deliciously hammy clips from old news reports on Satan worship filling the space between songs, building tension and hype for the next track.
As novel as Possessor’s unique yet sensical blending of styles is for most of its forty minutes, notable outliers fail to meet GosT’s lofty ambitions and serve merely as decent distractions. “Sigil” and “Malum,” the only two cuts to feature clean vocals, feel relatively lackadaisical, sorely missing the urgent, propulsive nature that drives the pulse-quickening mania of tracks like “Shiloh’s Lament.” Yet even in “Shiloh’s Lament” — which is, otherwise, one of the record’s highlights — the metallic elements that define so much of Possessor are inexplicably absent as if GosT was too worried about alienating his established fanbase to fully commit to this more experimental endeavor. This saddles the album with something of an identity crisis, making it feel like a glorified mixtape that doesn’t care whether it works as a consistent package.
Yet when it works, it really fucking works. GosT has said in interviews that he has a background in performing metal music, and it shows; from the Emperor-esque symphonic hellscape of “Beliar” to the ground-shaking doom of “Legion,” Possessor works just as well as a metal record as it does a synthwave one. It’s a bit disappointing that the two genres don’t really ever coexist, as GosT merely slides between the two styles rather than mashing them up, but the in-track transitions work well enough. Speaking of “mashing them up,” that’s exactly what’s going to happen to your ears because, boy, is this fucker loud. Synthwave albums are typically brickwalled as it is, and unsurprisingly, throwing blastbeats into the mix cranks the volume into orbit. The effects utilized sound good, with the metal sections sounding utterly grimy and the synthwave bits as slick and shimmery as one would expect, but if you’re hoping for any sort of nuance in the mix, check your expectations at the door.
Synthwave has a strange crossover appeal to many metal fans, and Possessor is such a unique record that it should attract new converts from both sides of the aisle. It didn’t completely win me over, but keep in mind that I’m not currently a raving fan of synthwave by any stretch, so many listeners may find themselves so enraptured by GosT’s filthy, intoxicating aesthetic that they will be willing to completely overlook the album’s flaws. Fan or no, I don’t think anyone could make the claim that Possessor is anything short of an utterly unique listening experience, and with a more confident handle on this bold new sound, GosT could handily deliver a superior follow-up to this compelling formula in no time.