As the deranged voices of “Loathe Thyself” jeer “you’re wasting time” and “just stop,” those glimpses of receding sanity mirror my own mental state. My fists clench. My teeth grind to the nerve. My notes devolve into an all-caps frothing that echoes those exact sentiments. If pressed for time, the finale of Losing the War Against the Sands of Time might be all you need to understand the debut of Illinois’ Synapse Misfire. Egregiously flawed and fundamentally half-baked, the black/thrash/grind record is a good idea in theory and a very poor one in execution.
Black metal should mesh well with touches of thrash and grindcore. Play even faster, louder, and meaner than usual and no one complains. But rather than a voracious cataclysm of the genre-imbibing furor, Losing feels more like a smattering of bottom-tier black and a hell of a lot of lip service. Opener “The Man Who Refused to Shake Hands” cribs its raw confines from the halls of black metal lore, trying (keyword) for dissonance, chaos, and a skin-blistering rawness. Instead, we’re treated to an offering sans cohesion, development, or ambition. The song’s disparate elements are smashed together with little tether between them and little to hold interest. The only traces of thrash lie in the occasional chunky riffs or thrash beat, not to mention a vocal-forward approach that needs to throw it in reverse and recede far, far into the background. And the grind? Uh… does a snappy 24-minute spin count if it’s less a full album in half the time and more a quarter an album in twice the time?
All jokes aside, this album uncovers practically nothing in the way of interesting concepts or exciting riffs. The opener and “Memoirs of a Speed Freak” needle your eardrums with weird dissonant sing-songy riffs that Synapse Misfire overuse into oblivion. Even the riffs that land are driven into the ground without development before long. Couple that with vocals that insist on obnoxious rhyming schemes and an infuriatingly off-kilter cadence similar to a children’s poem and you’ve effectively got Sesame Street black metal. “Speed Freak” is also a big fat liar. Lumbering; tepid; a single, anachronistic stoner riff; what’s not to love in a song that should be sued for false advertising? A lot of fault lies in the “grindcore” influence. Nothing is given time to develop, and as such, tracks flounder in a middle ground between underdeveloped and incohesive. Synapse Misfire often over-focus on one mediocre riff or flinging several disparate sections at you willy-nilly. Worse, the vocal intensives drag it all down rather than binding everything together.
When Synapse Misfire dial it up, they lack the songcraft muscle to keep their balls sticking to the wall. “Mental Microcosm” and “Purging My Hatred” are one-dimensional, even by black metal standards. “Dirge of the Misanthrope” loses its initial punch by the end of the song. The title track might have captured a banner victory if not for those damnable rhymes. Those damnable rhymes. If only they were the gravest misstep on this record. For all of this album’s ample failings, there are glimmers of hope. The conviction and energy are there, for what they’re worth. The production is surprisingly strong – say what you will about Thuriasz’s (Akashah, Angelust) vocal delivery, but he is clear and I like his scalding demeanor. Johnny Baker’s (Waco Jesus, Helmsplitter) drum performance struggles mightily against the tide of zzz’s, desperately building any path to excitement that it can. The short run time might be good for the wrong reasons, but any port in a storm, right? Yet just as I start scraping together what little positives there are, I slam headfirst into “Loathe Thyself.”
So here we are again. “You’re wasting time.” “Just stop.”1 Those words resonate with me because Synapse Misfire are not some young-blood garage band. Most of their members have been in the game for a while. They should be able to determine what they do right and accentuate those strengths. They should be doing something more than… this. Instead, Losing the War Against the Sands of Time elicits the same admonishments that “Loathe Thyself” doll out. There’s potential here, but Synapse Misfire will have to do a hell of a lot more than this to unlock it.