Why Darksynth Deserves its Own Genre

Why Darksynth Deserves its Own Genre

Darksynth is no longer a part of the Synthwave genre. In some cases, it’s not even close.

The music has exploded in the past two years, with new record­ings trans­form­ing the edges of the genre on an almost monthly basis. The first half of 2018 has already seen mul­tiple releases that have helped to redefine Darksynth music, and the trend toward rhythmic song­writ­ing with dra­mat­ic dis­tor­tion and viol­ent con­cep­tu­al themes is cer­tain to con­tin­ue over the next sev­er­al years.

Artists in the innov­at­ive and fre­quently bru­tal new form of music have worked hard at pro­du­cing ori­gin­al ideas — often dis­tan­cing them­selves from the older, sun-soaked Synthwave genre very expli­citly in the pro­cess — and the hard work of these pro­du­cers should be recog­nized with a unique name and a new way of think­ing about their cre­ations. Darksynth is a whole new breed of music, and it deserves to have its own genre.

The need for a sep­ar­ate clas­si­fic­a­tion may sound odd or sur­pris­ing, since the darkened side of Synthwave emerged just five or six years ago and has typ­ic­ally been easy to group with­in the main genre.

Even as recently as early 2017, nearly all cre­ations in the grit­ti­er, more aggress­ive Darksynth style could be roughly con­tained under the Synthwave monik­er. For example, it was nev­er a stretch to include albums like Perturbator’s I Am the Night, 20SIX Hundred’s The Cold Rise from Sleep, and Cluster Buster’s Total Terror along­side releases from Waveshaper and Lost Years.

Times change, how­ever, and few things are chan­ging more rap­idly than the shape and char­ac­ter of Darksynth, which has morph­ed from a gentle lab rat with glow­ing red eyes into a hulk­ing, mis­shapen beast of viol­ent elec­tron­ic music intent on des­troy­ing every speak­er and eardrum it can find.

The biggest reas­on for giv­ing the music its own name and genre is to respect the innov­a­tion that has gone into devel­op­ing mod­ern dark­synth, par­tic­u­larly in the past two or three years. Genres are essen­tial for appre­ci­at­ing and enjoy­ing music, and in 2018, there is a lot to enjoy with­in the realm of Darksynth.

From the time the darkened half of syn­thwave was estab­lished in 2012 and 2013 by artists like Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, Mega Drive, and Dance with the Dead, pro­du­cers have stead­ily and pro­gress­ively hacked away at Synthwave’s deep roots in House and Euro Disco, effect­ively free­ing them­selves to mingle with unre­lated styles like Industrial, Metal, Dubstep, and Trap.

Increasingly, dark­synth cre­at­ors have cast aside the ‘80s nos­tal­gia and bright melod­ies of Synthwave music in favor of wildly dis­tor­ted synth bass, crunchy elec­tric gui­tar, and thun­der­ous per­cus­sion, pro­du­cing music that bears no styl­ist­ic sim­il­ar­it­ies to clas­sic releases like Lazerhawk’s Redline and Miami Nights 1984’s Early Summer that typi­fy the Synthwave genre.

To drive this point home, it’s worth revis­it­ing music that sits near the cen­ter of the Synthwave genre and embod­ies the style’s essen­tial char­ac­ter­ist­ics. Arguably, no one’s music is a more per­fect rep­res­ent­a­tion of true Synthwave than Lost Years’, and icon­ic tracks like “Amplifier” could hardly be more dif­fer­ent from mod­ern Darksynth cre­ations like Gregorio Franco’s “Eternal Nightmare” above.

While it’s entirely pos­sible to line up albums to form a com­plete styl­ist­ic gradi­ent from Lost Years’ and Miami Nights 1984’s releases into mod­ern Darksynth record­ings like Fixions’ Headhunter or Battlejuice’s Death Rejects, this fact does not neg­ate the need for Darksynth to have its own genre. After all, it’s pos­sible to identi­fy a steady styl­ist­ic con­tinuum across nearly every music­al genre ima­gin­able, from folk music to Death Metal or early Electro Pop to bru­tal Dubstep.

Exactly where the line between styles should be drawn is sub­ject­ive and a mat­ter of per­son­al pref­er­ence, though at some point logic has to step in and point out that Bob Dylan does not sound like Cannibal Corpse, and arguing that they each use gui­tars and drums in their music is irrelevant.

In the same way, the dif­fer­ences between record­ings at the heart of Synthwave music and those at the heart of mod­ern Darksynth no longer bear reas­on­able sim­il­ar­it­ies in their song­writ­ing style, pro­duc­tion, or emo­tion­al and atmo­spher­ic con­tent, and assign­ing them the same genre name dis­reg­ards the import­ant dif­fer­ences between them.

There are numer­ous influ­ences on Darksynth music that have con­trib­uted to its sep­ar­a­tion from the older Synthwave sound, and these can mostly be broken down into camps from EDM, Metal, and EBM. Naturally, dif­fer­ent artists reveal these influ­ences in their own unique ways.


Some of the most prom­in­ent influ­ences on mod­ern dark­synth music come from con­tem­por­ary EDM (elec­tron­ic dance music) genres includ­ing Dubstep, Trap, Electro House and oth­ers, which pro­du­cers have taken and twis­ted into a dark­er, more viol­ent space. The effect can be clearly heard in Lazerpunk’s hybrid Darksynth and Dubstep cre­ation, Death & Glory, and they can also be heard in tracks like Perturbator’s “Tainted Empire” and Daniel Deluxe’s “Almaz.” Deadlife’s 2018 album, The Order of Chaos, sim­il­arly reveals the con­spicu­ous touch of ‘10s-era EDM on the Darksynth genre.

These influ­ences are very dif­fer­ent from the house music of the early and mid-‘00s that was integ­ral to the ori­gins of Synthwave, and the new­er EDM styles have led to much great­er emphas­is with­in Darksynth on dense, elab­or­ate rhythms with few­er melod­ic ele­ments than tra­di­tion­al Synthwave.


Dance with the Dead earned a large fol­low­ing with their incor­por­a­tion of old school Metal into Synthwave, and the group’s impact was not lost on oth­er cre­at­ors. As DWTD’s own albums have become increas­ingly heavy over time, with great­er gui­tar dis­tor­tion and a stronger emphas­is on Heavy Metal-style per­cus­sion, oth­er artists have begun pro­du­cing their own blends of Metalwave. Some record­ings, like Battlejuice’s Crimson Light and Retouch’s Pax, closely align with Dance with the Dead’s styl­ist­ic tem­plate, while oth­er pro­du­cers have found fresh approaches to com­bin­ing the styles.

One of the most prom­in­ent artists in this area is Shredder 1984, who intu­it­ively gen­er­ates the feel­ing of ‘80s-era thrash and death met­al with a strictly elec­tron­ic deliv­ery. The pro­du­cer has cre­ated two bor­der­line mas­ter­pieces this way on his Dystopian Future and Undead Thrasher record­ings. Master Boot Record is sim­il­arly not­able here, cre­at­ing all-elec­tron­ic music with prom­in­ent influ­ences of Progressive Metal. In some cases, artists have also begun incor­por­at­ing harsh vocals into the mix, as on Master Boot Record’s “Sound Card 8‑Bit (Dma 1)” and Irving Force’s “Violence Suppressor.”

Other artists’ approaches lean closer to mod­ern magma cre­ations. For example, Gör FLsh incor­por­ates ele­ments of Industrial-Metal hybrids, while tracks like Carpenter Brut’s “Monday Hunt” and Elay Arson‘s “Masauwu, Fire Keeper” push into the choppy riffs and rolling rhythms of ‘00s-era Nu Alternative acts for a dis­tinctly mod­ern sound.


In many ways, mod­ern Darksynth music is a spir­itu­al suc­cessor to Aggrotech and Dark Electro, which is a des­cend­ant of Industrial music and forms a branch of the EBM (Electronic Body Music) tree. Aggrotech flour­ished from the late ‘90s into the early ‘10s, and is a mix­ture of pop­u­lar EDM genres of the era — spe­cific­ally Trance and Techno — with Industrial effects, Harsh Noise, Synth Pop melod­ies, and occa­sion­ally, Metal gui­tar. The music is wrapped up and delivered with prom­in­ent themes of hor­ror and sci­ence fic­tion. In a very sim­il­ar way, Darksynth is a mix­ture of ‘10s-era EDM styles with Industrial effects, Harsh Noise, Synthwave melod­ies, and occa­sion­ally, Metal gui­tar, prom­in­ently delivered with themes of hor­ror and sci­ence fiction.

A quick listen to Aggrotech songs like X‑Fusion’s “Bloody Revenge” or Alien Vampires’ “Before it’s Too Late” is a remind­er of how close Darksynth has grown to its older, goth­ic sib­ling, even if it hasn’t (yet) adop­ted the heav­ily dis­tor­ted, shriek­ing vocal style. Some listen­ers even argue for Darksynth to be included under the EBM umbrella of music, though there are enough clear dif­fer­ences in the pro­duc­tion and song­writ­ing between them — largely due to Darksynth’s roots in the dis­tant and unre­lated sounds of Synthwave — to make the major­ity of new artists unclas­si­fi­able with­in EBM, at least for now.

However, Darksynth music has organ­ic­ally begun pulling over fans and pro­du­cers from harsh EBM, which itself has largely receded and dimin­ished in the past five years. The vibrancy and pop­ular­ity of the new­er genre has made it an attract­ive home for Aggrotech pro­du­cers, and more people are migrat­ing toward the style every year.

Prominent examples of artists with these influ­ences include Darksynth stal­wart Glitch Black, as well as new­comer Microchip Terror, who is cur­rently pro­du­cing music that blurs the lines between Darksynth and Aggrotech. It seems extremely likely that the influ­ence of harsh EBM will become more pre­val­ent with­in Darksynth over the next sev­er­al years.

Why Early Dark Synthwave Releases Are No Longer Darksynth

A some­times con­fus­ing aspect of genre evol­u­tions, but one that is essen­tial to the form­a­tion of new music styles, is that early, influ­en­tial releases are often left out of the genre they helped pion­eer. This hap­pens as a great­er volume of music is cre­ated in and around the new style, pulling the genre fur­ther away from its roots and solid­i­fy­ing the avant garde sound. As more artists grav­it­ate toward the dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent music­al approach and advance it with even more extreme and innov­at­ive ideas, pion­eer­ing cre­ations even­tu­ally land on the out­er edge of the new genre, or just out­side of it.

Examples of this are pre­val­ent across all large genres of music. For example, with­in the his­tory of Heavy Metal, ‘70s-era releases from Black Sabbath and Judas Priest clearly laid the ground­work for the entire Metal genre, though in con­trast to the evol­u­tion­ary surge rep­res­en­ted on hun­dreds of true Heavy Metal record­ings that fol­lowed in the ‘80s — includ­ing sub­sequent releases from Priest and Sabbath them­selves — these record­ings are his­tor­ic­ally closer to hard rock than to Heavy Metal. Similarly, Venom’s Black Metal sounds little like the extreme Metal releases that fol­lowed it, and in hind­sight has just as much in com­mon with tra­di­tion­al Heavy Metal as Black Metal.

The same evol­u­tion has occurred with­in Synthwave and Darksynth music, and is appar­ent with­in spe­cif­ic acts’ dis­co­graph­ies. Perhaps no one has been more respons­ible for the con­tin­ued evol­u­tion of the music and aes­thet­ic of Darksynth than Perturbator. The artist has been the engine behind the genre, push­ing deep­er into gritty effects and more elab­or­ate rhythmic com­pos­i­tions on each and every release. Early record­ings like Terror 404 and I Am the Night undeni­ably estab­lished a dark­er, more sin­is­ter tone than out­run releases of the era, though they fre­quently retained the stiff beat and clean, retro syn­thes­izer melod­ies that typ­i­fied old school Synthwave music.

A com­par­is­on of early Perturbator songs like “John Holmes VHS Nightclub” or “Miami Sunsets” with new­er mater­i­al like “Tactical Precision Disarray” from 2017’s New Model reveals the push into heav­ier, more exper­i­ment­al com­pos­i­tions that have dropped all traces of ‘80s nos­tal­gia and Electro Pop and turned instead to mod­ern EDM and Industrial music for inspir­a­tion. In this way, recent Perturbator releases like The Uncanny Valley and New Model rep­res­ent mod­ern Darksynth music well, while earli­er releases like Terror 404 still have plenty in com­mon with the older style of Synthwave music.

Other Darksynth pion­eers have fol­lowed sim­il­ar evol­u­tion­ary paths into heav­ier, grit­ti­er, and more abstract song­writ­ing. For example, in com­par­is­on to Gost’s Non Paradisi — and espe­cially to Possessor — the artist’s Nocturnal Shift EP from 2013 sounds sur­pris­ingly sim­il­ar to cent­ric Synthwave music. The degree of exper­i­ment­a­tion on Nocturnal Shift that felt big in 2013 has been drastic­ally dimin­ished in com­par­is­on to the cre­ations of mod­ern Darksynth artists — as well as those from Gost him­self — and a wide look at the two genres in 2018 shows that songs like “Day 30” fit eas­ily with­in the bound­ar­ies of Synthwave music instead of Darksynth.

In this way, early and influ­en­tial cre­ations are some­what coun­ter­in­tu­it­ively no longer part of the Darksynth genre. As the music con­tin­ues to expand and form its own iden­tity along­side Synthwave, record­ings from artists like Tommy ‘86, Compilerbau, and Cluster Buster increas­ingly fall much closer to con­ven­tion­al Synthwave music.

The term “Darksynth”, which was once a cas­u­al descriptor for a type of Synthwave music, has become a vital way of identi­fy­ing a large and extreme out­growth of the main genre. The iden­tity of Darksynth has become increas­ingly clear as prom­in­ent artists like Perturbator, Gost, and Dance with the Dead have pushed fur­ther into new cre­at­ive ter­rit­ory and developed their innov­at­ive ideas more fully.

The New Darksynth Aesthetic

What would a new genre be without its own visu­al style? Just as Darksynth’s music has evolved, so has its aes­thet­ic, ditch­ing the purple and pink-hued art­work of its Synthwave sib­ling along with its retro ‘80s song­writ­ing style. The new look is increas­ingly ori­ented on vivid reds against black and oth­er dark back­grounds. Notably, the chrome let­ters and curs­ive hand­writ­ing text of past Darksynth releases is also quickly fad­ing away.

It should go without say­ing that album art has no impact on a recording’s music­al con­tent and doesn’t neces­sar­ily reflect an artist’s par­tic­u­lar style, though the shift in Darksynth’s aes­thet­ic over the past two years has closely cor­res­pon­ded with the evol­u­tion of the music. A quick com­par­is­on of tra­di­tion­al Darksynth art­work with the new­er, emer­ging style, makes this change easy to see.

Early Darksynth strip

From left: Fixions – Genocity, Perturbator – Dangerous Days, Turboslash – EP II

Darksynth Covers 2
From left: Occams LaserAscension, Perturbator– New Model, Gregorio Franco – Stalker: The Final Cut

Of course, the best way to hear the dif­fer­ences between syn­thwave and Darksynth is to listen to a lot of music with­in each style. Iron Skullet’s Darksynth playl­ist is ded­ic­ated to the mod­ern evol­u­tion of the genre and cur­rently rep­res­ents around 60 artists. The playl­ist is updated reg­u­larly with new releases at the top of the list. Compared to the major­ity of record­ings with­in tra­di­tion­al Synthwave music, the iden­tity of the fast-evolving Darksynth genre is plain to hear.

Darksynth is now a com­plete cre­at­ive idea with dozens of con­trib­ut­ors and hun­dreds of releases to its name. It has increas­ingly little rela­tion­ship with its syn­thwave roots, and it fully deserves to be recog­nized as its own genre. The need for a sep­ar­ate clas­si­fic­a­tion will only grow and intensi­fy as artists con­tin­ue to con­trib­ute their hard work to this excit­ing new style of music.

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  1. Why did you re-print an older art­icle from 2018, and not even cred­it the ori­gin­al author?

    1. Hi, please take a closer look to the author Preston Cram (Iron Skullet). He is the ori­gin­al author and is now a mem­ber of Electrozombies. As the site Iron Skullet will be closed soon, his best art­icles move to Electrozombies.

      1. Wow I feel pretty dumb, ty for cla­ri­fy­ing! I was just try­ing to look out for an author I enjoy, and appar­ently don't know the real name of! :D

        1. That's all right, you're for­giv­en. It's nice that we could clear this up in a friendly way, which is not so com­mon on the inter­net. Preston will be mainly respons­ible for Synthwave and genre-related art­icles here on Electrozombies in the future. By the way, Preston has a new blog that you can vis­it: https://www.prestoncram.com/

    2. what happened to the old dark­synth playl­ist with the upside down cross thumb­nail? I found the new one but just wondering

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