Unusual genre crossovers are a tricky thing to get right. Done well, by bands like Diablo Swing Orchestra, they can produce brilliant music that sounds like nothing else. Done poorly, they certainly sound like nothing else. When we last saw 80s horror-themed black metal/synthwave crossover act GosT on their previous album Possessor, Eldritch Elitist noted the combination was sometimes awkward, but great when it worked. Since then, they’ve added a second member and signed to Century Media to release their new album Valediction. I liked Possessor a little more than EE, and I’m more of a fan of their previous work and synthwave in general than he is, so I was excited about the new album.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered the synthwave is almost gone. It’s not that GosT have committed further to black metal—more on that later. Rather, the electronics have traded synthwave’s driven, catchy dance melodies for something that draws a lot more directly from the synthesized horror soundtracks of the 80s, as referenced recently by the Stranger Things soundtrack1 and seen on tracks like “The Call of the Faithful (Faithless).” This is mixed with a darkwave aesthetic lifted from the 80s output of bands like The Cure or Depeche Mode and displayed on tracks like “Bloody Roses.” This isn’t automatically a bad thing—it’s actually done pretty well, and the prominent clean vocals (which remind me a little of Voyager) suit the style. But it’s definitely a departure from previous work and isn’t going to please all of GosT‘s fans.
On the black metal side, the first problem is that it’s distinct enough to address as a completely separate thing. We get occasional passages with, say, screamed black metal vocals over a synth riff (“Wrapped in Wax”), but largely tracks with metal elements just veer between electronic bits and metal bits (“Relentless Passing”). It’s also comparatively rare we get, say, a very heavy synth patch, and there’s a lot of under-explored sonic textures in this area. The transitions between the two flavors tend to be done pretty well, but it often feels like separate bands. This is a shame, especially as acts like Master Boot Record demonstrate much tighter integration is possible. There’s also four tracks with no metal elements at all, and they’re minimal in at least another couple. A bigger problem is that the metal aspects feel a little phoned in. Both the screamed vocals and the distorted guitar lines show little tonal variability or aggression, and there’s precious little in the way of actual riffs on guitar either. This is all particularly confusing in comparison to Possessor. I had been expecting GosT to build on that album’s successes with more metal better integrated, but instead they seem to have walked it back. The other odd thing here is final track and album highlight “Severance,” which does feature some really neat interplay between clean and distorted synths and black metal vocals and riffing. Valediction would have been more successful if more of it had sounded like this.
Generally, the songwriting has a few flaws. It’s rarely as successful as its inspirations, and the back half of the album settles into a rut where the songs start to feel a bit too similar to each other. There’s also a couple of moments, particularly “Dreadfully Pious,” where a perfectly adequate piece of music gets ground down through over-repetition. On the plus side, I do want to note that the production on Valediction by Jaime Gomez Arellano is a big step up from Possessor. Where that was so brickwalled I expected the Kool-Aid Man, this one is refreshingly willing to allow contrast and depth, and sounds great in general.
Ultimately, I’m not really sure what audience GosT are playing to here. They’ve signed to a major metal label and toured with a bunch of metal bands, and yet Valediction walks back the heaviness from the previous record. At the same time, it ditches the synthwave from all their previous work. Despite the amount of complaining in this review, the results aren’t actively bad, and if I was more of a goth I might be more interested. But even if I was, I’m not sure it would be that embedded in my playlist.