Celldweller: 'Wish Upon a Blackstar' – CD Review


Since we last chatted with Klayton, the one-man phenomenon behind the band Celldweller, he was putting the finishing touches on his long-awaited second studio album Wish Upon a Blackstar, which over the past few years he'd been releasing online in different phases and forms. As I've mentioned before, even if you've never heard of Klayton or his band, chances are you've heard his music – which over the past decade has accompanied dozens of films, trailers, TV shows, games and more, including Spider-Man 2 & 3, Iron Man, Constantine, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Enter the Matrix, Kriss Angel: Mindfreak and Ghost Rider 2. He's also been taking his act on the road, with a multimedia show that'll make you feel like you're rocking out inside Tron's game grid. We'll talk about that live sound soon, but today let's get things started with an overview of the new album, which fans have been dying to get their hands on ever since Celldweller's self-titled debut record surfaced nearly a decade ago. Hit the jump to learn more, listen to a preview track, and find out how you can win $50 in Celldweller swag!

Since the beginning, Klayton has used Celldweller as a platform for a diverse mix of musical genres, with an early emphasis on heavy electro-rock with industrial strength guitar riffs, danceable beats and intricate electronic soundscapes. Over the past couple of years he's also incorporated freestyle dubstep glitches and bass drops into his sound, which he often improvises on the fly during his live shows and DJ sets. All of these styles come together in Wish Upon a Blackstar, which is essentially a synthesis of everything Klayton has created since the band's formation.

After the sweeping sci-fi intro "The Arrival," a perfect example of that sonic hybrid emerges as "Unshakeable," a smooth blend of starry synths and digitally-treated vocals which busts into a jarring dubstep transition before reshaping itself into urgent electro-rock; Klayton's layered clean vocals carry the melodic line through the song's evolving structure, which makes this track one of the album standouts.

The jumpy up-tempo "Blackstar" incorporates Celldweller's patented (and very hooky) fusion of old-school synth stabs and hyper-distorted industrial guitar riffs, but the epic "Eon" – another of the album's heavyweights – pushes that style into rowdier metalcore turf with a great chorus hook. Gritty, cut-up riffs propel "Louder Than Words" into darker territory, but the melody is not quite as memorable. The brief "Memories of a Girl I Haven't Met" serves as an eerie, melancholy interlude accompanied by glassy echoing synth tones before Klayton breaks out the wub-wubbs for dubstep-heavy stomper "I Can't Wait," which switches off to choppy guitar patterns over breakneck drum 'n' bass, integrating the early and later phases of the Celldweller hybrid and showing off Klayton's strong vocal range.

The pensive opening strains of "Gift For You" introduce sultry female vocals, giving way to an eerie guitar line and an even creepier stack of male and female voices, including sinister laughs and robotic voice simulation, resulting in one of the band's darkest songs ever (and the best down-tempo track on the album). "The Lucky One" brings the mood up quickly with a hefty kick-and-snap beat, in-your-face vocals, and a rousing shout-out chorus that will get lodged deep in your brain. The straight-ahead low impact dubstep of "The Seven Sisters" takes on a dreamy, otherworldly tone through a brief but hypnotic multi-vocal treated with vocoder-style effects.

The big and brassy "Birthright" made an early appearance (in multiple versions) on the mostly instrumental release Soundtrack for the Voices in My Head, Vol. 1, and it's back in bombastic form here, complete with epic choirs and the massive sharp electro-stabs that characterize old-school Celldweller mode. A lonely guitar and plucked bass open "It Makes No Difference Who We Are," which maintains a hauntingly simple, almost dirge-like rhythm and deep, resonant vocals. The same creepy mood permeates "The Best It's Gonna Get," but it quickly explodes into a tense and tight drop-tuned riff switching up with a Prodigy-style pulsing drum 'n' bass pattern. "So Long Sentiment" melds romanticism and frantic energy in equal measure, but at times becomes so chaotic that the melody threatens to break apart. "Tainted" is another down-tempo dark ride, similar in tone to "Gift For You" but not quite as steamy. The record wraps with "Against the Tide," a piano-driven ballad with surging orchestra accompaniment befitting a blockbuster end-credits crawl.

Klayton's diversity of styles has always been his strength, and constantly folding newer genres and technologies into his ever-morphing body of work only reinforces it, like mixing multiple DNA strains to create an even stronger beast. Wish Upon a Blackstar is an impressive example of Celldweller's evolutionary skills – adopting, adapting and rising above the genres that play a part in it.

The Deluxe Edition of Blackstar contains a second disc on which the tracks are revised and arranged to create an album-length continuous mix (featuring a new outro by Klayton), as well as instrumental versions of the original songs. Both versions of the album hit the streets next Tuesday, June 12th. If you like what you've read and heard – or if you're already a fan – definitely keep an eye on FEARnet's Twitter feed today for a chance to win a Celldweller prize package worth $50, including the Deluxe 2CD set, t-shirt, poster and other groovy goodies...