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Synth Album Review: "Massive" by Mike Templar (and guests)

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

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Overall Impressions

Mike Templar’s Massive is full of power, a pervasive sense of technological coldness and unique synth tones and timbres. The album explores richly interwoven soundscapes, complex emotions and feelings of danger with contributions from some talented guest artists.

I am drawn to the synth palette that Mike Templar uses on Massive. He ranges broadly through a series of synths with fascinating sonic signatures that are skillfully layered and combined to produce music that can seethe and shiver or arc upwards in lines of bright notes. I enjoy the way he’s gone for some tones and timbres that I don’t often hear on this album.

Dimi Kaye and Jake Griffith are the guest artists that Mike Templar includes on Massive and they are both excellent choices. Dimi Kaye has serious guitar chops and he puts them to use with great effect on “Hypnotic.” Jake Griffith has a strong, distinctive voice and songwriting chops to spare which make his contribution on “Dream Within A Dream” a positive one.

I enjoy the atmosphere that fills this album. There’s a lingering darkness and a fundamental feeling of threats waiting to rise. When Mike Templar weaves brighter, more uplifting parts into the music, it only serves to increase the sensations of danger and worry that move in and around them.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Nightride” comes to life with a gruff, outwardly expanding synth grunt that breaks into an insistent, intertwined synth pulse over solidly throbbing drums and a rough, shadowy bass oscillation. A trembling growl of electric guitar touches the music before a line of tense, elevated synth nervously climbs and now a harp-like shimmer flickers through the track. The insistent synth pulse winds through like a taut string and the growling guitar comes in again.

Delicate, lush chimes with a bright ringing sound flow on. The guitar’s harshness cuts in with a quick harp glissando before digital-sounding, minor key notes spiral through. Bass oscillation and throbbing drums form a hypnotic pattern to support the track. There’s an emotional pull to the way that the crystal chimes carry a warm-sounding, more positive melody in contrast to the dark bass power below them. Drums stutter while the shining chimes sparkle over the gritty chug of the guitar and the dense bass. The music begins to slowly fade down before all the sonic elements crescendo and return, ringing out in a tightly woven auditory pattern.

Swirling synth clouds move around rough-edged, lower notes as the hard-hitting drums propel “Dream Within A Dream” over the snarling bass underpinning it in a wavering line. Piano-like notes, dark and heavy, climb below a bright, gliding, medium-high synth. Jake Griffiths hard-edged, gruff but expressive voice carries the lyrics he’s written while bright chimes flicker in and out in shiny lines over the continued driving force of the drums.

My emotions rise as the vocal melody carries on over the glide and shine all around it, full of impassioned feeling. The percussion heartbeat of the track is joined by full synth that echoes out in glittering blocks while a tighter, more angular synth adds its own unique, energizing motion. The drums propel all of the sonic elements while the flashing, bright sound blocks feel expansive.

Jake Griffith’s deeply expressive vocals convey the emotion of his lyrics well. The song crescendos as diamond chimes flutter and now the rising, medium-high, bright synth adds a lift to the vocals. Through it all, the beat supports the other sonic elements in a steady pulsation.

The narrator opens by imbuing this song with a sense of vigilance as he talks about taking the first watch, telling the other person to “get some rest” while adding that “I can see it all from here.” He talks about how the person he’s addressing has him “rushing now” and he’s unable to stop.

He wonders if it’s all “a dream within a dream” as he is “a thousand miles from heartbreak” despite all of his “regrets…and mistakes.” He repeats the alternating mantra of “I can’t let you go, I won’t let you go.” Now our narrator contrasts telling the other person to “get some air” while he mentions taking his last breath.

The narrator adds that he “felt you falling through the years” and it’s in his head and he can’t rest because “this is my dream within a dream.” He asks if the other person can feel him falling. He points out that when he sees them “I’m a thousand miles from heartbreak.” He concludes by asking, “Don’t you see me? All my regrets and my mistakes.”

“Massive” opens with a mechanistic, buzzing synth that forms a slicing melodic pattern over jumping, powerful drums and a shifting, guttural bass growl. Brightly jangling, thin chiming sounds move over the massive bass which is full of glitchy, jagged-edged power. Round synth chimes out in a minor key, aching, wandering line while ethereal chimes echo out.

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The sense of seething anger is well-captured in the raging, heavy vocal sample as it calls out over the agitated, trembling synth moving in roaming, vibrating lines.The bass roars in a broken line underneath harshly metallic, bright chimes that waver and glitter coldly.

Shifting, dense, round sound that feels like a wider, fatter xylophone moves in waves before breaking in to the varied, open percussion. Tightly wiggling, thin chimes moving in their constrained line before we end on the threatening bass notes.

A distant sound rings out in the background before a roving, oscillating line of shining chimes flickers in to start “Hypnotic.“ Dense, rapidly shifting, shadow laden bass blares before a huge drum hits and the nervous, tightly wound chimes flicker while koto-like notes move in a rising melody full of aching minor key emotion. Gigantic, ancient-sounding drums inject more energy while bass bubbles out in thick, heavy clouds.

I can’t help but be galvanized by Dimi Kaye’s full-voiced guitar, howling out a minor key melody that soars while still reminding me about the shadows that remain. The gigantic drums pulsate and the almost tribal percussion adds increased drama to the music. Quick, heavy-hitting synth pulses move in and through the track while the vast bass weight supports all of the musical pieces with a constant density. Chimes flicker and everything fades before the track returns to the huge drum heartbeat.

“Psychopathy” opens with a variable, complex drumbeat as an extract from Mike Wallace’s 1958 interview with Aldous Huxley comes in while a slowly oscillating, robotic synth moves along with a steady synth flow that shimmers and glides. A slow, uneven drumbeat and low, moving synth support the track as Aldous Huxley’s voice adds a warning message. Hearing this interview of a prescient thinker from the past combined with tech-y synth sounds creates an effect I like very much.

The drums burst while the shifting, glowing synth line wriggles along. Whispering sounds susurrate before fuller, brighter synths shine and flicker while one of the major questions that plagues humanity is posed. A digital feeling synth wanders in a shimmering, twisting line while Aldous Huxley’s message is sharply delivered through a flashing, flaring synthscape. The track fades out on soft drums.

Jingling, metallic sounds pulse out in open space as a warm, almost bouncy feeling synth steadily repeats a circular series of notes to begin “SOS.” An angular, dynamic melodic pattern moves as heavy hitting drums throb strongly below it to emphasize its driven motion. There’s a break into intertwining, swirling, medium-high synth before the angular motion starts again.

The unique, almost Gregorian chant-like vocals move with a darkly oscillating synth that cuts in and fades out. I enjoy the distinctive power of the vocals as a tightly-wound synth glides in a flowing pattern. After a gigantic drum fill, shimmering synth trickles lightly through and the ear-catching vocals ring out as the weight and motion of the drums remains steady. A medium high, full synth drifts in waves over the gruff, hard-edged percussion before the track ends.

“USA” comes to life with a triumphal voiceover before Stygian bass rumbles out and a rapid, pounding kick drum moves. Cold shadows shift as the steady drums throb while a distant, elevated sound exudes threat. A surprisingly funky bass line moves with liquid notes with a xylophone-like sound forming a melodic pattern. I enjoy how the high violin sound adds more tension while a wriggling, twisting synth shivers through the music.

The voiceover comes in, talking about a time in America that is long gone. The funky bass line and throbbing drums move along with the spinning, distorting synth and the constant screaming violin. The flowing stacks of synth are cut by sharp notes and the track fades out on a voice whispering “everything is a lie.”


An airy breath sweeps in and uneven percussion adds a unique rhythm as Mike Templar’s cover of “Oxygéne (Part IV)” starts out. A medium-high, smooth, glowing synth carries an easy-going melody tinged with a minor key melancholy as it moves with the steady, slightly limping percussion. A high, bright synth comes in carrying a pattern of gently rising notes that shine out before a nasal synth with a distorted harpsichord sound plays a similar pattern with a texture that I find quite unique.

The track returns to the “A” section melody over the flowing breeze gliding around it, adding an element of floating. Delicate notes yearn and the nasal harpsichord sound adds its own melody that dances along with a light touch, full of a swingy energy. Synths shine while the harpsichord-esque synth and the active bass end the track.

Conclusion

Massive is an album that is richly layered, full of interesting sonic complexity and drenched in an atmosphere that has been well thought out and executed. I can always count on Mike Templar to put out strong releases and he’s done so again here.

© 2022 Karl Magi

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