If Area 11’s Modern Synthesis does only one thing, it shows that its creators have no shortage of ambition. And in all fairness, they have every right to be ambitious. The band have already reached audiences of thousands thanks to their music being used in the content of YouTube broadcasting group The Yogscast, and being commissioned by Namco Bandai to write the theme song for their web series Bravoman. So it would make sense that a band who have made their name in such a thoroughly modern way would release Modern Synthesis, an album that is essentially a cross-section of rock in 2016 injected with a ridiculous degree of pomp.
But ambition doesn’t always equal quality, and this album can sometimes fail to make that distinction – Modern Synthesis may be the most overblown, self-satisfying album released thus far this year. To put it into perspective, imagine a fusion of Muse and Dragonforce and you’d be in the right ballpark. Area 11 clearly want to pen the same sort of multi-dimensional space operas as Muse, but where Muse have reached that untouchable level where they can get away with this sort of thing, a band as relatively new as Area 11 trying their hand can seem like overkill. The most obvious examples of this are the album’s two linchpins, Processor and Panacea And The Prelogue – both are nearly seven minutes long each and pack in enough genre-bending flash to be operettas in their own right, but it’s clear throughout each that Area 11 don’t yet have the momentum to run with them just yet, given how both end up trailing off way before their ends.
Credit where it’s due though, and there is plenty to give here – Area 11 are frequently fantastic musicians. Modern Synthesis may be bursting with ideas above the band’s station, but they sound like they at least have the technical chops to pull it off. Override [C]‘s flashy guitar work definitely sets this band far apart from their Britrock peers, while Versus actually makes a smooth concoction of hard rock and full-on EDM work. It’s all certainly impressive in scale, instigating a feeling of dramatic triumph whenever it can, like on the beautifully textured strings of Red Queen. As completely over-the-top as Area 11 can seem (particularly when they go overboard with their own visions of grandeur), such a drive for something so grand is very rarely seen in British rock nowadays, and they definitely deserve to be admired for that. And while vocalist Sparkles* (yep, really) can sometimes seem a bit flat like on the chore that is The Life Of A Ghost, his more conventional vocal style adds a bit more gravitas and humility in a way that, say, Matt Bellamy’s somersaulting falsettos have abandoned.
As messy as Modern Synthesis is overall, there’s a certain degree of appreciation to be had for Area 11 regardless. For a band on their non-indie label debut to have already written such huge songs as the pure anthemia of The Contract and the zipping, anime soundtrack-ready Nebula is no easy task, and the fact that this band is essentially self-confidence personified is admirable. At the moment though, they could do with limiting themselves a bit given how bloated they sometimes sound, and for the time being, to stay in their own lane in terms of what is actually achievable. But it’s worth keeping an eye on Area 11, only because literally anything is possible.
For fans of: Muse, Enter Shikari, Babymetal
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Modern Synthesis’ by Area 11 is out now on Cooking Vinyl.