Thomas Azier - Hylas (Album review)

In any epic adventure, there are those who win and those who fail, but, by the end of it, no one stays the same. They change with what they acomplish or lose, their characters metamorph into something new. It's not that different from what every mortal experiments daily, be it in life's prosaicness or in love's mysticism. Actually, love might be the most epic journey a soul can take on. Afterall, with all the intrinsic uncertainty and unpredictability it bears, only one thing is sure: in the end, both lovers are different from what they were before they've touched each other's lives.

Born in the Netherlands, but living in Berlin since he was 19 years old, Thomas Azier (now with 25) seems to know a lot about epicness and love. Considering the prevalence of techno and minimalist house in Germany's music scene, Azier became suffocated in its deconstrutive patterns, while his love for pop and synthpop grew stronger. He needed to make a difference somehow and his first live music sets, mainly comprised of pop songs, were profound fractures in Berlin's monotonous techno babble. 

But the city also influenced his sound: his pop became more industrial, flooded with synthetic streaks and a darkness that prevails even in the most intimate moments. But one thing is certain: his music sounds epic. Since 2012, Azier has released two EPs ('Hylas 001' and 'Hylas 002') that were like mechanical thunders in the electronic music scene, two hot iron blades hammered with crystaline, glacial and harmonic compositions which carried his intrepid voice through it all as if he was an herald of doom. Azier intended to release an EP trilogy, but after having hundreds of sketches, he decided he had enough material for a full album - 'Hylas'. Even the name is epic, as Hylas is a character from greek mythology: a young boy who became Heracles companion and lover. Heracles teached him to be a warrior and made him an Argonaut, but Hylas was captured by nymphs. Heracles searched restlessly, but never found him, as he had fallen in love with the nymphs and stayed with them in their underwater caves.

'Hylas' is an album filled with an inate grandeur. There are new tracks amongst older ones, but all of them are part of the splendorous mythology Azier is creating for himself. The title track is the first one: beginning with sounds of running water - as if recalling the moment when young Hylas is captured by the nymphs - it soon becomes a vintage decorated forest where Azier sings like the bewitched boy, with passionate graciousness and fierce vitality. 

Next comes 'Ghostcity', an obscure synthpop anthem that finds inspiration in the soft spectrum of EBM and adds neon shrouds of melody, while Azier's voice ranges from robotic to ardent in mere seconds. Pure bliss! 'Verwandlung' starts with what could be a religious psalm musicality, but then turns into a sacrilegious story about a love that came to an end. There are arpeggios leading the electrified beat and the increasingly distorted voice, suggesting the torment he's been through. Azier also has moments of pure energy and danceable exhuberance: 'Rukeli's Last Dance' (a reference to Johann 'Rukeli' Trollmann, a romani boxer killed in a concentration camp) is an hymn both to preserverance and resistance, sung with such brilliance that its message is conveyed even if you're dancing frantically.

'Red Eyes', one of the older tracks, maintains its strength even after two years: sitting at the fringe of hope and despair, the looping synths give the track a sense of apocalyptic turmoil, where both good and evil can come as the winner. It has all that made us fall in love with Azier in the first place, but 'Angelene', the next song, is one of the most remarkable pieces of music written by this talented artist. Mixing religious motifs with industrial ambiences, the wooden and organic percussion contrasts with Azier's laments and modulated cry. It's a magnificient diamond shaped like a song.

Songs like 'How to Disappear' and 'Futuresound' reflect Aziers ability to create pop songs filled with details that sound fresh but also are an evident nod to the geniality of the 80s. And 'Shadow of the Sun' is a lovely and powerful electronic ballad, moistened with glowing neons and stirring mirrors, on which Azier sounds like an outcast, rebellious and, at the same time, fragile. 'Yearn Yearn', by the other hand, builds slowly, gathers power with each bridge and chorus (just like lust and desire grow until becoming unbearable), and even though it never really explodes, it has an aura of prowess that only can be found in a lover yearning for his loved one.

The album closes with the weakest tracks on the album, the languid 'Golden Wave' and the progressive 'Sirens of the Citylight', both of which are great songs (the kind some artists would kill for...), but pale in comparison to the boldness and mastery showed by Azier in the previous ones. Nonetheless, these songs add up to this strong first release, one that he must trully be proud of.

With 'Hylas' Thomas Azier ventured into the epic quest of creating a breathtaking album and he is one of those who won. He could have failed, he could have promised and not delivered; but he didn't. He released one of the best albums of the year, so far. But the voyage has taken its toll: he will never be the same again, as he'll definitely be under our radars, keepin us anxious for more releases and making us gasp with every new hint of a new song. But we believe Azier can handle that. Afterall, it's a price any mortal would gladly pay for a bit of immortality, don't you think?

RATE: 10/10

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