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A while ago I wrote my first ever album review for SLE Music Radio. It turned out well enough for me to try writing another one using the same technique. Well, I say “technique” but really, it’s just words strung into sentences in search of meaning. Anyway, with this review I am shamelessly returning a favour, because Virtual Intelligence mastermind Nikoletta Winters very graciously reviewed Dark Matter Will Flow’s second album last October.
I have played Virtual Intelligence on my radio show a couple of times. The first song I ever heard from VI was an insanely danceable blast of blackened electronica called La Llorona, a song seemingly about the joys of vampirism at The Goth Club! No irony here, I really love that song.
But on to the album under review here, PAINSYNC. It came out September 10, 2020 and I’m going to listen to it right now. All song titles link to Bandcamp.
Slow burning opener. The vocals are moody, low register and ooze menace tinged with sadness. Nikoletta is showing incredible restraint here, I keep waiting for her to shift to a higher register. Instead, we get a guitar solo. I should mention Nikoletta does everything on this album. The production sounds lush, no evidence of symphonic black metal. Yet.
I played this song on my show and I can tell why I picked it. The shift from the dark verse to the shamelessly poppy chorus works wonderfully well. Echoes of Depeche Mode in the soundscape. I love the slightly dissonant harmony guitar stabs. This is just a great, great song.
Great intro arpeggio, classic. The vocals come in like a moodier…Billy Idol? But then they climb to a falsetto on the wings of a gorgeous melody that send shivers down your spine. The overall mood of this album so far is of profound melancholy and I like it. Lovely guitar solo, it has that searching quality that I really like. Was that song really over six minutes long? It didn’t feel like it.
The tempo picks up, but the sombre mood prevails. I realize this review style doesn’t fit Virtual Intelligence’s music. This album deserves a more well-rounded, thoughtful approach rather than this slapdash bit of nonsense. Anyway, back to the song. The vocals are wonderful, showing incredible restraint, no showing off and they sit incredibly well in the mix. Some people think vocals should always be louder than everything else, but I disagree.
Slight rhythmic shift, the beat is busier and more accented. This song has some more cool guitar solos, and for whatever reason it makes me want to listen to Holographic Operative again. That song is my favourite on this album so far.
This is getting interesting; the organ-led intro sounds playful and majestic at the same time. The song proper features the most impassioned vocals so far. The chord structure is intriguing, adding some chromatic changes to the more classic chords driving the song. Absolutely beautiful vocal melodies. Nice fast arpeggios in the guitar solo! Again, I marvel at Nikoletta’s vocal restraint. There’s so much room for more dramatic and over the top delivery in this music yet she sticks to her more nuanced approach throughout. The outro harmony guitars sound very nice.
Is it the last song already? Well, there’s still nine and a half minutes to go. I like this for the song title alone, but there’s also plenty of musical delights here to sink your fangs into. The beat is busier again, lots of aggressive kick and hi-hat adding a bounce to the song. The synths entering at around the five-minute mark are an understated delight, providing contrast to the piercing guitar tone. A great way to end the album.
And there you have it, PAINSYNC by Virtual Intelligence, an album that sounds deeply personal, slightly wounded but also defiant and optimistic. Musically it holds together well, the production is stellar and while for me the obvious highlight is Holographic Operative, the material is uniformly very strong. The guitar playing adds a human element to the electronic soundscape. Go listen to it!