It’s not very often that I’m so excited to review an album that it pervades my dreams. When the phrase “synthwave” is used in the same breath as “Arnold”, it’s usually assumed we’re referring to his role as the time-travelling cyberpunk assassin from hell in The Terminator. A little less common but not uncommon are references to his roles as cigar-smoking commando Dutch in the original Predator, or as the protagonist of other notable wavy films- namely Commando, The Running Man, and Total Recall. However, not often acknowledged in the retrowave scene (and without good reason) is Arnold’s breakout role as the titular Cimmerian warrior in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian.
I’ve been a devoted fan and follower of Conan for a while now, clinging to an age long forgotten, between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas. Through the original stories by Robert E. Howard, as well as the two classic films, I’ve sought glory in the eyes of the gods of the Hyborian age. However, that glory and feeling has only through music typically been granted through true heavy metal, and sometimes dungeon synth, so when I saw the album art for Conan the Cybernator by Beaver River Art, Dreamweaver, and Psybolord (who also contributes the track “Varangian Ships” to the project), I knew all my dreams of high synth, low fantasy adventure were coming true.
Conan the Cybernator is an 11-track compilation assembled by Moscow-based Synthetics Records featuring original tracks by artists paying tribute to the 1982 film, as well as The Terminator. Many of the tracks take hints from the original masterpiece of a soundtrack for Conan the Barbarian by Basil Poledouris. The first track I clicked on was admittedly Vectravox’s rendition of “Anvil of Crom”, a composition commonly referred to as the theme for Conan the Barbarian. It was everything I expected and hoped for. Following that is another notable nod to Poledouris’ original score in D-Noise’s “Conan”, which partially recreates “Riders of Doom”, the theme attached to big bad antagonist Thulsa Doom’s elite cataphract raiders. Paella’s “Atlantean Sword” follows this idea too. Other tracks sample vocal patterns from the film, as heard in Battlejuice’s “Enter the Battle” intro, pörpl’s “What’s Best in Life?”, Walras’ “Nocturnal Sword”, and FX MACHINE’S “Crom”. Sword-sharpening contributions from R6 (“Beyond the Black River”), Robot FM (“The Barbarian God”), and AWITW (“Neo Barbarian”) further solidify the record and drive your civilized brain to contemplate the Riddle of Steel in a most uncivilized manner.
Conan the Cybernator is the answer to a barbaric hunger I never knew I held so deeply. A primal, carnal lust to watch the sun set over the city of Zamora. To coordinate the hues of my Stygian cleric’s robes with varying shades of funereal purple. To give my sword a neon red tinge as I pull it from the abdomen of an 8-eyed eldritch being as it bleeds glowing blood. Conan the Cybernator undoubtedly has a home as the perfect soundtrack in the next tabletop campaign I run. Hopefully this innovation of a record will inspire more artists to look back into the grim age of high adventure, which until now has remained primarily untapped. What a magical wave this could begin. With Synthetics Records and every person that contributed in any way to Conan the Cybernator, Crom is most definitely pleased.