Spectral Darkwave seems very confused. Last First Contact is a testament to the fact that it’s better to nail one style than incorporate many seemingly for the sake of it. Fusing strains of death-doom, melodeath, classical and electronic, it’s rare that it all functions as a cohesive package. It certainly has its moments, but Last First Contact lacks overall direction, consistency and doesn’t excel in any of its constituent parts.
But first, Spectral Darkwave’s strengths. The tracks on which there is greater focus fare better. The surprisingly catchy chorus on “Under Ebon Lash” offers a natural centre-point not found elsewhere on the album, and has been kicking about my head for the last few days. It doesn’t hurt that vocalist, Steve ‘Arch-Kakoph’ Kennedy, has solid death vox, recalling Vincent Cavanagh on Anathema’s earlier material. “Retake Mars!” is tethered around a particularly strong lead riff which affords better structure. Even the instrumental interlude, “At Midnight… Alchemy,” is a very compact and straight-forward addition, adhering to a single guitar tone and style, unlike almost everything else. It’s a clean and atmospheric mid-point which breaks up the album well. Where Last First Contact offers a more compelling core melody to unify a track it sees greater success.
Unfortunately, this suggests my key issue with this debut: more often than not, songs are stitched together from myriad sources in a disjointed fashion. Aside from the aforementioned highlights, songs often unsatisfactorily transition between slower, doomier leads and more melodic death-lite riffs, trapped in a place where neither can show off as they undermine one another. “Compound Vengeance” and “Mors Technica” demonstrate this particularly. “My Hand The Gavel” experiences a similar issue but with even more influences and ideas going on – the otherwise unused baritone cleans are somewhat discordant and the introductory horns are entirely extraneous. Across the record as a whole the orchestral element doesn’t add a lot, typically following similar but simpler visions of the guitar melodies. I would have liked to hear the strings, horns and occasional piano used to counterpoint the principle riffs more, offering another layer to unravel. Moreover, along with 80s-sourced synths in the introduction which are rarely used again, occasional samples of gunfire and battle suggest a poorly fleshed-out concept, adding to the list of unnecessary components.
Further to this, the wider song-writing on several of the ten songs is quite bland. While the chugging rhythms are largely solid in the moment of listening, none called me back to hear again aside from “Retake Mars!” Despite clear differences if actively listening to back-to-back songs, these riffs blur together. Given the prevalence of many contributory parts, it’s ironic that the lack of diversity in the core riffcraft arises as an issue.
It seems that Spectral Darkwave don’t yet know exactly what they want to be; that, or they do and their next release requires finesse to either conform more satisfactorily to a simpler style or more shrewdly unify their several influences. This is also reflected in Last First Contact’s production, with a notable lack of sonic dynamism and the ineffectual orchestral components placed too high in the mix in places. These Englishmen are only on their debut so this lack of direction can be rectified with a stern look at how they want their band to progress. I hope for better next time since there are strengths here.