Empathy Test – Monsters

Modern British Synth Pop

Empathy Test - Monsters

Album facts

Release Date: May 22nd, 2020
Label: Self-release
Genre: , , ,
Discogs: Link
Partially sounds like: Erasure, Ben Ivory

Finally, it's here! Long awaited by many people, the new album 'Monsters' by 'Empathy Test'. The fact that the two found­ing mem­bers Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf come from my favour­ite city London deserves an extra point of sym­pathy. However, this will not affect the final res­ult of this review.

If you take a closer look, the album 'Monsters' is the first real debut album of the band. The 2017 albums 'Losing Touch' and 'Safe From Harm' were basic­ally just a col­lec­tion of older EPs and single releases. That's why I'm espe­cially curi­ous how var­ied the new album can be that is full of new tracks.

An album with initial difficulties

The open­er 'Monsters' starts with deep drums that sound a bit unin­spired and dark strings that cre­ate a mel­an­chol­ic atmo­sphere. It might be a bit impol­ite to cri­ti­cize right at the begin­ning, but I stumble upon the drums dur­ing this review a few times. I make it short and sweet with this track. Monsters' is for me one of the weak­est tracks on the album. Lyrically and vocally, I think the song is fant­ast­ic, but the drums seem like a for­eign ele­ment in this oth­er­wise clean, elec­tron­ic tune.

I like 'Empty Handed' much bet­ter in terms of sound. The over­all sound is warm and ton­ally bet­ter tuned. The fans will cer­tainly be happy to hear that I was reminded of 'Losing Touch' dur­ing the chor­us in the song. Qualitatively the song is close to this time­less ever­green of the band.

The song 'Doubts' opens like an 80s sci­ence fic­tion soundtrack. Classical elec­tron­ic, dooms­day mood and cyborgs are the asso­ci­ations that come to my mind spon­tan­eously with this par­tic­u­lar synth. The song has a rel­at­ively long intro with a hum­ming beat and lyr­ics that are per­formed like an epic pro­logue. From 1:10 minute the music­al jour­ney picks up speed for a short time before it is slowed down again after about 30 seconds. The com­pos­i­tion plays excit­ingly with dif­fer­ent tempo, which is per­fectly adap­ted by the beau­ti­ful vocals. Definitely my first high­light on the album 'Monsters'.

Unagitated, but not powerless

With a sim­il­ar Synthwave feel­ing it con­tin­ues with 'Making Worlds'. The song lives mainly through the very emo­tion­al vocals and the pro­fund­ity in the lyr­ics. Basically this song is less dynam­ic, but there­fore everything fits togeth­er per­fectly. I can well ima­gine that you can quickly lose your­self in thought dur­ing this song and for a moment release your mind from your phys­ic­al body.

What darkened path­way brought us here?
Our prim­al instincts drove our fear.
Lyrics from 'Making Worlds' by Empathy Test

Empathy Test (Promo photo 2020)
Empathy Test (Promo photo 2020)

With 'Stop' you hear the first son­ic break in the album. But this is not to be noted neg­at­ively. Finally more vari­ation comes into the album. This song would be atmo­spher­ic­ally a mar­vel­lous song for the next sea­son of 'Stranger Things', but unfor­tu­nately it's not an 80's song and there­fore out of com­pet­i­tion. But ton­ally it would fit great. It sounds super mod­ern, but subtly in the back­ground there' this typ­ic­al 80s Synthwave vibe float­ing along.

With 'Holy Rivers' an old friend comes on the album. The song was already released as a Single on October 31st, 2018. In itself the song is gen­er­ally pretty good. But I miss the bite and the dynam­ic. The song splashes along like a quiet brook over which you can step over. The car­pet-like hi-hats of the drum­set sound dull and weary. Too sad, there is a lot of wasted poten­tial in this song.

We run like tears through the flood of holy rivers.
Lyrics from 'Holy Rivers' by Empathy Test

The vocals is their biggest strengh and unique identifier

The song 'Fear Of Disappearing' does not lack bite and dynam­ics. The first bass­line already builds up a lot of pres­sure. With the begin­ning of the melody, 'Empathy Test' adds a superb ton­al con­trast by using synths in a much high­er fre­quency. Unfortunately I have to cri­ti­cize the drums again, they just don't fit into this very Synthwave driv­en sound. Here I would have wished for a crisp drum sound that kicks.

'Incubation Song' is kinda the "b‑side" of 'Holy Rivers'. Sonically the songs are very sim­il­ar and share the same weak­nesses. I think that the chor­us sounds a bit more excit­ing and enhances the very flat sound car­pet remarkably.

With the great song 'Love Moves' the album 'Monsters' ends. Emotionally touch­ing and on anoth­er level dream­ily happy and mel­an­chol­ic at the same time. A very bizarre mix­ture and while you're read­ing this review, you will be more con­fused than enlightened. But that's exactly the way it is with this song. It is emo­tion­ally very com­plex, but in any case very beau­ti­ful. The only flaw: The sound of the drums again!

Is this a monster album?

As a com­plete work, 'Monsters' comes close to the pathos of Erasure's 'World Be Gone'. The same depress­ing mood slowly lays over your soul like a heavy blanket. The themed world of the lyr­ics may be a dif­fer­ent one, but per­haps that's because of the age difference.

'Monsters' is a bril­liant album that could have eas­ily broken the 4‑star bar­ri­er. In the way, how­ever, are the already in the review men­tioned titles with a drum kit that sounds as if it was a demo record­ing in the gar­age of a school band. Important to note: This is not a cri­ti­cism of Christina Lopez's play­ing abil­ity, this is really only about the way it sounds. Apart from this one cri­ti­cism, I strongly recom­mend listen­ing to the album.

Track By Track Rating

Empathy Test - Monsters
Empathy Test – Monsters
Empty Handed
Making Worlds
Holy Rivers
Fear Of Disappearing
Incubation Song
Love Moves
Fear Of Disappearing
(Nothing to report here)

Listen to 'Empathy Test – Monsters' on Spotify