Metric’s fifth studio album, Synthetica, shifts gears from where the band left off on 2009’s Fantasies, offering an unmistakably heavy, almost gloomy aesthetic that features a toned-down energy and more mature style. While working within a well-established sound, Metric pushes the boundaries that have defined them musically and ultimately crafts a strong full-length effort that engages from start to finish. Though the album lacks the radio-friendliness so prevalent in Fantasies, the development of themes throughout Synthetica gives the album a strong cohesion and an identity that fans of Metric are sure to enjoy.
Synthetica focuses heavily on investigating themes of artificiality, technology and decay through a somber, thought-provoking sound and lyrical depth. While the band strays little from the effect-laden guitar, heavy synthesizer and breathy vocals that have come to define Metric, Synthetica adopts a pace and feel that serves to communicate the themes mentioned above, making for a particularly engrossing listen. Opener “Artificial Nocturne” perfectly introduces and exemplifies Synthetica’s focus, as Emily Haines’s sings in a calm, collected voice, “Got false lights for the sun, it’s an artificial nocturne” over a building synthesized backdrop.
As the album continues, Metric’s dialogue about the real, the artificial and everything in-between becomes increasingly clear. Single “Youth Without Youth” features a musical progression definitive of the band’s style, kicking off with an upbeat guitar riff and a hard-rocking rhythm. Unnerving electronic effects develop as Haines’s soft, sultry voice tells a story of destruction and recklessness. While Synthetica reflects its themes using the many faces of melancholy, many songs are eerily upbeat. Their use of synthesizer and other electronic elements provide an interesting juxtaposition of the messages of artificiality and technological decay that pervade every track. “Synthetica,” for instance, stands as perhaps the most energetic and emotional song on the album. While driving beats, futuristic synthesizer and hard-edged guitar riffs blare in the background, Haines vehemently declares, “I’m not synthetica, I’ll keep the life that I’ve got.” The album ends softly with “Nothing But Time,” a repetitive yet harmonious and layered reminder that the future belongs to each and every one of us.
Though Synthetica offers a captivating listen from start to finish, not every song stands strong individually. “Dreams So Real” acts a transitional track more than anything, while “Lost Kitten” has the tendency to come off sounding a bit like filler. Furthermore, Lou Reed’s completely unnecessary vocals in “The Wanderlust” render the song a disaster that threatens to ruin the flow of the album and a sound that Metric has worked so hard throughout Synthetica to establish. Also, when taken next to their last release Fantasies, Synthetica in no way has a surfeit of single-worthy tracks. “Youth Without Youth” and “Breathing Underwater” are the only obvious radio-friendly tracks on the album, meaning that one could easily see Synthetica as “too conceptual” for the average listener. Even so, perhaps this move away from a radio-focused approach will help ease the band into creating longevity for itself by building a career and not being afraid of experimentation.
Ultimately, Synthetica’s seamless transitions between songs, natural cohesion and powerful thematic development make it a considerably strong album. Though the album includes several individually weak tracks, Haines’s deep lyrics and Metric’s distinctive overall sound reinforce Synthetica as a whole, offering listeners a fulfilling and intriguing experience, and one that shows growth and a look to the future.