Bristol synth-rockers Area 11 have always been known as a group with a hugely electronically influenced sound, however they also boast technical solos and some of the most diverse styles in modern alternative music. With vocals ranging from soul/pop soaring choruses to guttural bellows and back again, this is continued to an extent into the Modern Synthesis era.
The album opens with a couple of pretty plain tracks that could have come from any old band; only when it hits Watchmaker does it start to truly build but when it does, Versus is the explosive yet party-driven result. The latter has screamed vocals reminiscent of a quality hardcore band and guitars that could slot into any hard rock band in the modern day. It has a heavy undertone to the raging synthesisers that could have been plucked straight from a Shikari set. The roughness slackens off at the start of fifth track Processor but from nowhere comes more of those screams that just curdles the blood of anyone listening. Pop choruses follow and it turns into a roots rock track, which truly displays their versatility as a band together.
The guitar takes more and more prominence as the album progresses, having very little influence with the pop/dance-driven first two tracks but with an absolutely shredding solo at the end of Red Queen and taking the introduction as well as adding fuzz over the verse it makes for great added depth to the sound. Later in the record too, the outro to Nebula comes in the form of another ripping solo before leading into Panacea And The Prelogue which is filled with classic rock sustained high notes with vibratos with bluesy riffs below the crashing drums and verse vocals.
The most standout physical instrument on Modern Synthesis though is the bass. Every single track bassist Jonathan ‘Kogie’ Kogan is the shining star who propels this band to a funky new level through the riffing away he does throughout the verses to all the tracks. Whichever other members and instruments playing at the time, there are very few periods the bass doesn’t play and when they do the moment tends to fall flat.
Vocally, there are literally two modes: scream or bubblegum pop with no in-between measure at all and while in some parts this works well, it creates a rather lacking vibe when juxtaposed with the solid rock instrumentals going on underneath ‘Sparkles*’ Clarke. This is especially noticeable towards the end of Angel Lust and through The Life Of A Ghost where the guitars sound almost Saint Asonia-esque yet the vocals point towards a pop-rock track and the gulf leaves something to be desired. That being said, there are tracks like Panacea And The Prologue where it works and matches up fantastically to create a whole-band crescendo before breaking back down to a piano/vocal closing.
Overall, a slightly lacklustre record but a clear display of the band’s skills, with a few golden tracks in there such as Versus and Nebula that fans of anyone from Enter Shikari to Led Zeppelin will love; there is a Modern Synthesis track for every mood and everyone.