It’d be stupid not to say that one of my most hotly anticipated albums of the year was Silent Descent’s Mind Games. After the synth-based battering that was Duplicity, I found myself both excited and apprehensive when faced with studio reports and pre-order dates – Duplicity is one of my ‘go to’ albums. It’s heavy, it’s slick and it’s always fresh. So, as ever, I was expecting sod’s law to step in and make Mind Games a steaming pile of electronic dirge. Besides, effectively meshing electronica with more heavy genres is always a bit of a balancing act. Doing it well is difficult, but retaining the quality of your releases over the years is damn near impossible. Yet somehow, somehow, Silent Descent have managed to keep their scales beautifully balanced and created a wonderful, compelling, earth-shaking monster.
From start to finish, Mind Games proves to be a full-on, atmospheric affair. It bypasses all the usual trappings of both death metal and contemporary dance; each track has a different pulse, feel and life. Its consistency lies in its quality. While retaining all the hallmarks of a Silent Descent record; the versatile vocals, pushed almost to breaking point, and the pounding, melodic synths of their more than distinctive keyboardist, Kipster, go part way to push Mind Games into legendary territory. Guitars, drums, bass… everything is tight and impressively skilful. Yet thankfully, at no time does anyone venture into gratuitous, over-the top ‘look at my skillz’ excess, though the temptation must have been hard to bear at times. While Silent Descent retain a sound like that which graced Duplicity, it has been noticeably tightened, cleaned and distilled with the mixing skills of Scandinavian metal virtuoso, Pontus Hjelm (Dead by April). With such a distinctive musician comes a distinctive tone – and again, somehow, it meshes beautifully with Silent Descent’s own rounded and now, very mature sound.
Mind Games is impressively well structured; its short introductory track Overture acts as a smooth gateway drug to the pounding calls of ‘defecate…procreate!’ that soon follow in such tracks as Breaking the Space. Breaking the Space proves to be a particularly exciting example of the band’s understanding and control of their genre; it’s certainly trance-metal, dance-metal, synth-metal or whatever we’re calling them this week, but it really is so refined and considered in its changes in pace and tonality that you can’t help but listen, utterly dumbfounded.
The most noticeable change in Silent Descent from their Mind Games days is their handling of their electronic equipment and vocals. While Duplicity is a solid album, a really great album in its own right, Mind Games knows when to ration itself. With tracks such as Psychotic Euphoric, the screams are still there, but now they’re buffered with clean vocals and the odd, dare I say it, harmony. The machine-gun drums and synths are still there (Give On That Trip a listen), but again, they have their place, and as a result, their effectiveness is considerably heightened. This may make their output considerably more accessible to different groups of dance and metal fans, but it also makes their sound far more interesting to the existing fan. In reconsidering their approach, they’ve opened up many more musical avenues to explore. This is none more noticeable in the phenomenal Bricks. It’s the sort of song you’ll find yourself singing around the house, but you’d also feel comfortable listening to it in a venue while wiping someone out in the pit. Pianos, a bassline that could reposition your bowels and a dalliance with the idea of a ballad? It shouldn’t work, but Christ, it does – and you don’t want it to stop.
Coke Stars is the real stand-out track on the album. Featuring guest vocals from the ever-incredible Sarah Jezebel Deva (ex-Cradle of Filth, Angtoria etc), it’s a real demonstration of what can be achieved when synths get smart. While Deva provides the soaring vocal melodies that made her such a stalwart of the British darkwave scene, the rest of the band are able to comfortably compliment her, while still keeping the track their own.
Very rarely does any track on Mind Games seem sub-par; it’s been a fair while in the making, and it shows. It’s easy for songs of such a genre to blend into one another, but Silent Descent have managed to bypass such traps and create a distinctive sound from track to track. The tracks that didn’t make my theoretical BEST SONGS EVER playlist, such as Bring-In-Sanity and the title track are by no means bad, just not quite as innovative or compelling as their album counterparts.
Mind Gamesis capable of being regarded as a modern classic – the kind of album that sparks a mini-musical movement and grabs a generation of imaginations. All they need is more exposure – the chance to assault more eardrums. Besides, now that Pendulum are no more, there’s a synth-based crown ready for the taking. If anyone deserves it, it’s this lot.
4.5 out of 5 high fives!