In hindsight, it’s not all that difficult to see why synthwave didn’t take off among metal communities as much as it was pegged too. The progressiveness and abrasiveness of the genre compared to other forms of electronic music is undeniable, but trying to entice a group as notoriously close-minded as metal fans could feel like a lost cause, especially with something so alien as this. Even though there was plenty of quality within synthwave, it seems to have slunk back into its own scene now, which makes the continued perseverance of GosT all the more fascinating. The mysterious Texan producer still very much resides within synthwave, but last year’s fantastic Possessor showed how much of a different beast compared to his contemporaries that he is, keeping the pulsating electronic backbone but imbuing it with dark, satanic symbolism and a metallic intensity that felt truly in touch with where modern heavy music should be going. Thus, it’s little surprise that Possessor made its most severe marks in metal circles, and it was always going to be a question of whether such a rapid follow-up in Valediction would trend even more in that direction and make the balance between metal and synthwave even finer.
It’s hard to say whether that’s truly the case, as while the metal side of GosT is given an even clearer, brighter spotlight this time around, this doesn’t feel like as much of a blend as an album stuck mid-transition with regards to what it wants to be. That’s not a band thing in itself, and it’s a credit to GosT as an artist that the level of searing, pulsating darkness that runs through Valediction is able to remain constant regardless of what form it takes, but after Possessor felt like such a brutally focused experiment at merging the two seemingly incompatible oppiosites, this is a bit looser and less direct as a result. There’s still not another producer that comes to mind as daring as GosT in this regard, but Valediction, while good, doesn’t quite hit the greatness he’s capable of.
And that conclusion becomes all the easier to draw when the first piece of evidence is what opens the album, as the shrieking black metal of Relentless Passing is very much a different beast from the fare that GosT broke through with last year. On its own, it’s fine stuff if hardly groundbreaking, but when the glassier synth chimes do come in, there’s not much there to blend the two sides besides a slight fade to a more atmospheric canvas. To be fair, it’s about as effective as such a direct play to a more staunch metal crowd can be, but GosT’s approach a similar final result has always been the product of density and unbridled darkness within his production that can mesh and blend into one cohesive whole; here, with moments like this and Timeless Turmoil, they feel thrown in almost as necessities, and it leaves the transitions as clumsier than they really should be. The same could be said for the lyrics drawing from similar wells of dark imagery that are familiar but not exactly questionable, though that’s always been a factor of GosT’s music that at least remains constant. Rather, there’s less of that in Valediction’s execution as a whole, and it’s less direct because of it.
It’s a shame that’s the case too, as the majority of Valediction does move in a direction that does successfully marry darker, more metallic sounds and vibes with a clearly dominant synthwave side that feels fully-formed and doesn’t lose track of itself along the way. It’s perhaps best encapsulated in a track like Ligature Marks with its crashing, industrial percussion emboldened by a warped, blaring wall of sound and punctuating synth twinkles to cap off of its more sinister, gothic vibe. That’s definitely the more prominent sonic palette drawn from on Valediction, and to have GosT play around with it as much as he does yields some truly great moments that, regardless of how they’re weighted between the organic and synthetic, hold their sense of creeping dread almost perfectly. Bloody Roses channels a more classic sense of goth in its knife-sharp organ emulations and percussion akin to heavy machinery, while The Call Of The Faithful (Faithless) repurposes EDM tones and places them against a roiling, crushing low end in what’s easily the album’s standout moment. The sense of experimentalism that GosT displays can be flat-out excellent, hitting peaks of electronic euphoria and bringing them crashing down into bleakness often within the same musical phrase. What’s more, the fact that it’s kept so close and oppressive only gives that darkness even more presence within the mix, and when it hits its stride, Valediction really does have a lot to offer in terms of composition.
It’s just unfortunate that’s not as much of a constant as would be preferable, and that Valediction’s overreaching into a more undisturbed metal field leads to some flabbiness that does ultimately hold it back. It’s what does make this feel like a step down, regardless of how strong GosT’s vision is elsewhere, and the skill and panache with which it’s brought to life. That does count for a lot though, and the fact that a borderline unparalleled amount of creativity hasn’t gone anywhere is more than enough to recommend this album on, but for an album that captures a sense of what GosT can do at his absolute best, Possessor does feel like the stronger choice. Even so, there’s still a lot to like here, and even if it doesn’t all totally click, GosT remains one of the most fascinating and ear-catching artists operating today.
For fans of: Perturbator, Nine Inch Nails, Carpenter Brut
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Valediction’ by GosT is released on 4th October on Century Media Records.