Kambrium – Synthetic ERA Review

Few discussions in metal are as pointless as genre disagreements, and when such bouts of useless verbal sparring occur between enthusiastic Dunning-Kruger subscribers, you can expect some real dumb shit. As it did when I got in a disagreement with some friends, back when I knew a whole 3 metal bands and had barely bought my first fake leather spiked wristband. You see, I had just learned the term ‘melodic death metal’ and was vaguely aware of what power metal was, and as such, I laughed at friends telling me Children of Bodom were ‘power metal with harsh vocals,’ as the eternally-wise Encyclopedia Metallum claimed at the time. I wonder what any of us would have made of Kambrium, a band that treads the line between melodeath and power metal with meticulous precision. After 4 medieval fantasy themed albums, the Germans now turn their gaze towards… the future.

And they will let you know that it’s about the future with the unbridled zeal of those who have just discovered a new toy. Even ignoring the truly awful videos laden with neon lights all over the place, the enormous amount of keys and synths occasionally brings to mind synthwave bands like Carpenter Brut. The basis, however, is high-octane power metal with more of a US slant than a German one, with extra blasts and plentiful growls supplying the melodic death metal side of the equation. Don’t mistake blasts and growls for grit, however; this is a highly polished affair, from the cut-and-dry songwriting to the nano-tuned performances. And when the band takes that almost over-the-top level of polish and energy and runs with it up the slopes of Mount Cheese, some genuinely enjoyable material can arise, such as the goofy opener “Cybernetic Overload” with its fun and bouncy chorus.

So if the album is so polished, and the band knows how to shoot for cheesy fun, why does so much of it feel so empty? There is a staggering 69 minutes of music on Synthetic ERA, and the opener is the only part of it that leaves me fulfilled in any way. There is a wealth of accessible, even poppy hooks, something I rarely mind, and they’re not written that poorly either. Certainly I’ll nod along in absent-minded fashion as “Nightly Beast Mode” or “Holographic Satisfaction” play in the background. There’s some attempts at additional variety with an actual synthwave track (“To The Core”) and two tracks with female vocals in addition to the cleans and growls, the second of which is the closing ballad, plus the title track unspools into a 10 minute epic. So that’s all the ingredients for a cool album, right? So what’s the matter?

The problem is, Synthetic ERA feels exactly like a carefully calculated collection of ingredients for a cool accessible album as decided upon by an AI trained on a bunch of US power metal and melodeath bands. But there’s not one singular cause for this effect. The songs feel formulaic, lifeless, despite the ample energy and prodigious skill of the performers. The vocals are skilled, but just a bit unenthusiastic, maintaining a similar scale across the bloated runtime and rarely varying their delivery or pacing. Every chorus, every verse, every bridge is in neat, pre-packaged, predictable multiples of four. Mostly, though, it’s the way the theming of the band is overpowering to the point of nausea. The lyrics are like someone threw darts at an open copy of William Gibson’s Neuromancer and played ad-libs with the results. The synths and keys are a constant intrusive distraction, especially when turning the 80’s setting up to full.

Add to this a brickwalled production and you have an album that is every bit as artificial as the titular era. And the worst part is, listening to “Cybernetic Overload” again, I can totally hear an album that could work. Sure, the production issue and unimaginative songwriting would remain a problem. But if Kambrium was less preoccupied with being epic and perfectly polished, if it was willing to get a little zany and take itself less seriously, it would already make a world of difference. Now, Synthetic ERA is nothing but an immaculately played, neatly packaged, shiny neon box with no substance inside and no fulfilment to offer.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Reaper Entertainment
Websites: kambrium-band.de | facebook.com/kambrium
Releases Worldwide: July 9th, 2021

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