“Let’s get away from these soul parasites”
I recall a request on social media – a few years back now – for input from Klayton to his listeners regarding (at the time) the next Celldweller release. I also recall that “heavier” was one of the qualities frequently requested. 2017’s Offworld – which by admission was a bit of a one-off – was a beautiful, yet somewhat more subdued collection of songs. Additionally, 2015’s juggernaut End of an Empire, which was artistically and conceptually expansive, similarly failed to match the musical intensity of the self-titled debut (2003) or the monumental Wish Upon a Blackstar (2012), albums which share a unique, pivotal, inspirational and iconic status within the world of Electronic Dance Music (EDM).
One of the difficulties in reviewing new music within the electronic world is that many of these songs have already been released individually over the past 18 months, and so many readers/fans have already listened to or read about the new material. Well, call me “old-school” when it comes to listening to and reviewing music (fair enough) – for better or worse – but I prefer to wait until all the songs are released into one collection of massive beautiful musical bliss! And when it comes down to new material from Klayton (Circle of Dust/Celldweller/Scandroid/FreqGen) that descriptive is quite accurate.
Satellites is unique (as are all the albums within the cyber, sci-fi world of Klayton’s creative sound-mosphere) because, not surprisingly, it taps into the frustrations, emotional exhaustion and isolation triggered by the pandemic over the past few years. The “pent-up demand” bred from being held captive to social isolation and media fearmongering for two years lit a fire of aggression and emotional catharsis in the mind of one of the most innovative and imaginative artists in the history of the genre.
As might be anticipated, all that fire and aggression has been translated into a rock/metal/industrial synth-driven fusion comprised of every element Klayton has incorporated into his musical journey thus far in time – trance/dance/synthwave/darkwave/drum and bass/dubstep, etc. Additionally, there is a strong use of distortion in the vocals intertwined with the more melodic singing – the melodies here no less infectious than on the previous 4 releases. Using Klayton as his own reference, Satellites plays out as a strong mix of Circle of Dust and Celldweller … without a doubt, the heaviest of the 5 Celldweller releases to date.
“I Can’t Wait”
Refreshingly, although there are plenty of musical references to and lyrical overlaps with the older material, these songs are decidedly “new.” Perhaps, more importantly, the excitement and anticipation of hearing these songs – this quality fortified on repeat plays – has been and remains for me an important indicator over the years of Klayton authenticity as an artist. I am pleased to report that my excitement factor remained high throughout the virgin spin cycle but was satisfyingly very high through repeated cycles of listening. And in fact, I will additionally be glad to report that after 10 (or more now after writing this review) times through these songs, I keep finding nuances and brilliance I hadn’t previously noted!
We are Satellites … They are Satellites … Satellites are watching…
“Into the Void” opens things up in grand fashion with deep synth stomp chords reminiscent of the End of an Empire era followed by a fast-paced, frenzy of guitar riffs, rifling bass drums and scorching vocals. The distorted vocal effects and reverberating dubstep simulate a scenario of panic and chaos – a to-and-fro motion musically mimicking the indecision of the moment.
Every bit as impactful as the music, the words here pose that timeless question: Who are you? When your satellite falls out of orbit, when the world around you disintegrates, how will you react? What will define the substance of your character in that moment?
Who are you? Malignant or benign?
Would you sell out your brother to save your own life?
Or neglect your own safety to save him from his plight?
Who will you be when your life starts to spin into the void?
“Blind Lead the Blind” succeeds in turning the heaviness factor one step up the dial with a decidedly COD/metal industrial vibe. When an artist has as many identities as Klayton, the overlap of those identities is inevitable … but also comforting. This song just screams Klayton … that sick distortion mid-song so cool … but the melody remains squarely Celldweller, this one of the catchiest songs in the Satellites constellation.
Lyrically, scathing cynicism = sober observation…
So don’t waste my time
Trying to justify yourself
The blind lead the blind
Straight into the mouth of Hell
If you could combine a psychotic dance vibe with industrial metal harshness, you would begin to comprehend the genius of “A Matter of Time” – a song once again a throwback to the End of Empire era and the brutal Circle of Dust crush from Brainchild.
It’s a matter of time before a lesson of pride stems the tide – a strong warning for those who presume to know the truth yet remain deceived. A lesson in humility for those who would diminish others for their own gain?
I’ve watched you do unto others as you’ve imagined they’ve done to you
And your pride has come before the fall and your downfall is believing all your fantasies are true
“My Disintegration” features more harshness juxtaposed with melody vocally, especially on the bookend sections. But it also showcases a slower and melodic middle section which feels surprisingly like a melodic rock song in its construction. Lyrically it preludes – sets the stage for – one of the most compelling and dynamic songs on this set.
Easily the most recognizably Celldweller/COD in sound, and one of the most brutal tracks, “Soul Parasites” delivers. Not only does this song possess heavy, driving guitar riffs, but the percussion and bass is massive – some of the drumming elements near the finale are the most aggressive on the album. In many ways it reminds me of the almost hardcore nature of “Eon” from Wish Upon a Blackstar.
I’ve given every piece of me to you
I’ve done so many things I can’t undo
I live in subjugation
You’re my disintegration, parasite
The more I give to you the more I need
They’re looking through your eyes to watch me bleed
I live in Isolation
My determination’s lost the fight
“Electric Eye” is one of the “lighter” songs musically, but the pace is still tachycardic. The fast dance tempo combined with swirling synth sounds conveys the message of the music perfectly as all of the vocals remain eerily discernable.
I love the reference to Machines of our Disgrace … the world of technological advancement is an addiction for an imprisoned society as we continue to sacrifice our freedoms…
Always awake to keep things in their place
As you resonate with your machine of loving grace
Watching from the sky
A beam of light
I am Electric Eye
And it just keeps getting better on “Baptized in Fire,” a song which possesses all the qualities that make a Celldweller song so great – this the anthem of the album for sure. The melodic vocals, backed up by harsh vocals (duet-like), lend a contemporary vibe, an almost “new” horse to the Celldweller stable. The softer sections echo “Song Long Sentiment” from Blackstar as Klayton once again nods his head (musically and lyrically) to prior work.
Baptized in fire, the end of this empire stripped me down to my bones
Detached from everything I’ve known
Sometimes it feels like my life has been scorched from the earth
Converging, submerging beneath the burning waves
Refining, purifying, I’ll never be the same
Regeneration, baptized in fire
In flames, in pain, the sacred and profane separated in the belly of the fire
Detached from every raw desire
Sometimes it feels like my life has been made for rebirth
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the final mournful song “The End of the World” – a lament for our world and a longing for the familiar (a searching for what is true and those who share in that truth?). Musically, the song opens with an almost Japanese piano/synth melody, followed by tom percussion and then as the vocals come in this almost has that Lincoln Park drum rhythm going. The more contemporary rock vibe lends to this song some serious radio-friendly vibe ala Starset.
While the music is sublime, contemplative, melodic and even infectious the message/lyrics are the highlight. Echoing the immortal words of Pink Floyd … “is there anybody out there?”
And I’m not the kind of man to run from a trial
But it’s hard to stand by and watch all the things they defile
As it burns to the ground they smile
Is there anybody else out there?
Sold on a dream of a future serene
Then why does this feel like the end of the world?
Hopes in a dream are not what they seem
And now it feels like the end of the world
Do I need to live in fear for the mind of my child?
Do I feed into the need to be reconciled?
If I do, will I be exiled?
I can’t base my actions on whether I’m loved or reviled
Hard to pretend that I’m ok when my heart is breaking
It’s hard to stand on solid ground when the earth is shaking
Is everyone everywhere forsaking?
Or is there anybody else out there?
This song will (and should) leave you breathless, in tears of joy and resonation. Yes, Klayton, we hear you, we lament and rejoice with you … and we are listening!
“We’ll go offworld tonight”
End of a Review
In the end (of the review and not the empire/world) I may not be willing to say this is Klayton’s best work to date (Blackstar is satisfying on so many levels) but Satellites represents a conceptually complete and concise statement of where this artist is circa 2022. I recall a statement during one of Klayton’s podcasts a few years ago where he said, “I was put on this earth to make music.” (Pardon, my recollection may not be a verbatim quote).
Without reservation, I haven’t heard an artist in the EDM/synth-driven rock/metal world making music any better. Furthermore, Klayton clearly draws a line in the sand lyrically – moral or immoral, good or evil? Regardless of your beliefs, Satellites doesn’t promote a neutral stance, essentially prompting that eternal query … where do you stand?
1. Into the Void (5:17)
2. Blind Lead the Blind (6:00)
3. A Matter of Time (6:03)
4. My Disintegration (6:21)
5. Soul Parasites (3:37)
6. Electric Eye (5:24)
7. Baptized in Fire (6:01)
8. The End of the World (4:13)