Xenturion Prime characterize their music as “Scandinavian Powersynth”, which in practice seems to be a 2014 take on millennial futurepop tropes with updated production. It’s not a bad idea in theory, and XP’s Hasse Mattsson and Bjørn Marius Borg (both of whom honed their synthpop chops in the now defunct Code 64) certainly provide some solid dancefloor thrills on their uneven but occasionally very entertaining debut Mecha Rising.
The recipe for the best Xenturion Prime songs seems to be mid to high-tempo percussion and melodic vocals coupled with the big synth swells of modern-day anthem EDM, a suitable stand-in for the epic trance cribs of yesteryear. It’s a heady mixture, and when the group goes for broke as on high speed club banger “Second Nature” the results are fantastic; all Borg’s impassioned vocals and pumping bass leading to a massive breakdown and climax. The same goes for “Voyagers”, where the duo temper the song with an unexpected half-time outro of syncopated drums and growled vocals.
It’s a formula, sure, but one with solid applications even when the beats are slowed somewhat. Debut single “Rise” sits squarely in the 110-112 bpm range and is danceable as anything else presented, relying on a vocoded verse and crunchy drum sounds to establish a solid groove for the entirety of its four minutes. “Radiant” fares similarly well, in spite of a lengthy Vangelis-inspired intro it ends up being one of the album’s best and most understated moments, reminiscent of mind.in.a.box’s better slow jams.
For all it does right, there are some flaws built into Mecha Rising that keep it from being everything it could be. The straight up ballads feel somewhat tepid; both “Realms” and “Transmissions” are fine from a production standpoint but when every song on the album is angled as an emotional triumph it’s a lot harder for them to make an impact minus all the bombast. And while XP’s choices in sound programming manage to avoid the perils of sameyness, by the time the one-two impact of late album entrants “Skyline” and “Elite” has subsided you may find yourself a bit punch drunk.
I suppose it’s a delicate balance; while Mecha Rising draws strength from the go-big-or-go-home ethos, it’s also occasionally prone to going over the line into a place where it feels hokey instead of heartfelt. Of course the proverbial ‘bridge too far’ is going to be something each listener determines on their own, and despite a few missteps songs like “Ignition/Power Up” are just the sort of grandiose but not over the top numbers that should strike home with those looking for an update on the uptempo synthpop/dance hybrid styles of yesteryear.