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System Syn – Once Upon a Second Act Review

June 7, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
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System Syn – Once Upon a Second Act Review  


Once Upon a Second Act by System Syn
Releases on June 26th.
Check out the official System Syn website for details.

System Syn’s latest album, Once Upon a Second Act, due to hit the world June 26th, is the first System Syn album I’ve ever listened to. In fact, Once Upon a Second Act is the first goth industrial album I’ve ever listened to. And, truthfully, I had no idea that goth industrial music was actually a thing before finding out about Once Upon a Second Act. Because of my lack of knowledge of the musical genre subset and of System Syn in general, I’m going to come at this album as just an album of music, as though I picked it up at a store because the album cover looked interesting and I was feeling adventurous. I did listen to a few System Syn songs on YouTube back when I interviewed System Syn mastermind Clint Carney about his movie Dry Blood, but that was mostly just to find out what Carney did when he wasn’t making movies or engaging in some other artistic endeavor. I don’t even remember what songs I listened to. So, in essence, I went into this album completely blind.

Once Upon a Second Act is made up of 11 songs of varying lengths. The longest track is almost five minutes long, and the shortest is less than a minute (that would be the final track, “The End”). It doesn’t appear, at least to me, that there’s necessarily a “story” being told with these 11 songs but there does seem to be a theme of someone needing some kind of rebirth. I’m just going to venture a guess and say that that’s what the album title, Once Upon a Second Act is meant to convey. Some of the songs are haunting and kind of gloomy, while others could be considered dance tracks that you would likely hear in a night club of some sort. I wouldn’t call any of the songs happy, though. There’s scattered happiness throughout, but it isn’t a subject that gets its own song. If you take the “someone in need of a second act in life” idea and apply it to all of the songs, some people manage to succeed at their second act, some fail, and some don’t really do anything/accomplish much of anything with that second act. I may be reading way too much into these songs, but, as a whole, that’s what I’m hearing.

All songs are sung by Clint Carney and, I believe, he performs all of the music, too. Most of the songs have a kind of techno sound to them. If you removed Carney’s lyrics and just heard the music as music you’d swear that it’s all movie music. Carney’s voice is hypnotically smooth and, on all tracks, complements the music perfectly. If you just want to listen to Once Upon a Second Act, have it in your life as something to filter out the background noise, I can’t recommend it enough. As just sound, it’s going to mellow you out, even when it gets kind of upbeat and makes you want to dance (and that does happen as you progress through the album).

Track 1, “The Wreckage,” the longest track on the album, has a steady beat and seems to be about someone contemplating whether or not they should move on with their life. The lyrics keep calling back to a point where someone thought they enjoyed life but, in reality, they were just remembering something that didn’t happen/maybe didn’t happen quite the way they remember it. Perhaps this is the stuff you have to overcome mentally before you move on to that potential second act?

Track 2, “Promise,” starts out like a Dokken song (it’s like the first five seconds of the song. Is this going to be “Dream Warriors 2”?), then moves into this smooth, steady theme where you can picture someone coming up with a plan for their new, hopeful life. It’s almost like someone is trying to promise to themselves that they when they figure out what they want to do they will make every effort to follow through on it. I’m not sure if they actually make that promise, though.

Track 3, the title track, “Once Upon a Second Act,” is the first of the album’s multiple dance tracks. I don’t think it’s meant to be just a dance track, though. I mean, the beat is there to just groove to, both quickly and in that kind of slow motion that happens when a fast paced dance song slows down, but if you start listening to the lyrics the song almost sounds like a warning. If you decide to move forward on that second act you have to make an effort to try to follow through on it. You are not going to be able to move back to the way you were beforehand (“those days are gone”). And with the way the song just stops (it doesn’t trail off) that’s the biggest warning of all.

Track 4, “King of Empty,” is another full on dance track. The first minute is groove city and it never really lets up. As for the ongoing the “second act” theme, it almost seems like it’s a song about someone dealing, internally, with a person who hurt them at some point in their past and now they’re trying to push that person out of their psyche. It’s a struggle because you want to acknowledge that person’s humanity, they still exist, but they also have to remain a part of that person’s past.

Track 5, “We Had Time,” is the most depressing track on the album as it seems to be about a group of people (a couple?) who never figured out what they wanted to do next with their lives. And this couple was given all sorts of information about what they could do next but they decided to not do much of anything. They decided to stick with what they had, whatever it was, and it all fell apart. It would almost seem as though that idea should be a warning, but I’m not sure it is. Reminder is probably a better word. Don’t be like these people.

Track 6, “Weightless,” is yet another depressing track but it’s not depressing in the same way as “We Had Time.” It starts with Carney singing and playing piano gingerly, and then about halfway through it becomes a little more modern. It almost seems like the subject of the song expected certain things to happen during his or her life changing moment but they didn’t happen, including the participation of a second person (boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other), and now the subject is unsure about what to do next. The weird part about the song, if you believe it’s about a sudden bout of indecision, is that indecision is a kind of transcendent moment for the subject. However, that transcendent moment isn’t necessarily positive. So that’s where “weightless” comes in. The subject is kind of floating in the void. Goddamn, that’s brutal.

Track 7, “Knives,” would fall into the dance song category. It’s the second longest track on the album, and the opening minute or so is one of the greatest action movie soundtracks ever created. As the song progresses, it plays out like a response to “Weightless” in that indecision should be avoided. The song asks the listener to keep moving, don’t stop, and try to “reach for connections in the darkness” no matter what. It doesn’t say that avoiding indecision is necessarily going to mean success/achieving something worthwhile, but, maybe, in an overall sense, trying will lead to a better experience than staying still. The whole “knives” thing involves being “blind” (you don’t know what the hell is going to happen) but still you have to “swing your knives” (don’t stop, keep going). I think this is my favorite track on the album. It’s also, oddly, the most positive track on the album.

Track 8, “Collapsing,” comes off as a “negative” track on first listen, especially after the practically triumphant “Knives.” If you listen to it a few times, though, it sure seems like a song that’s meant to be about accepting the eventual end. Even a new life will eventually end. The subject of the song goes on about the things he or she believes they will miss when that end eventually comes. Despite the title, though, it doesn’t mean that collapse is happening right now, but it is coming. It’s an oddly comforting thought. It also sort of makes you appreciate the moment. The slow pace of the song helps emphasize that appreciation. It’s all going to collapse at some point. Accept it. Don’t dwell on it.

Track 9, “We Knew You When,” is another dance song but it isn’t as fast paced as “Knives,” which this serves as a kind of companion piece to. This also seems to be a song that celebrates a person’s complete failure at his or her second act. You can almost hear this song played at someone’s funeral wherein that someone is a person who threw caution to the wind all of the time but never really figured out how to completely succeed. “Stay awake until your ego drowns you” is a lyric that’s repeated several times, perhaps calling out the people who would criticize this person’s life. “If only they did this or that.” That may not be the point of life. Maybe life is meant to be about working out whatever it is you want to do. You won’t do this, though, if you “stay awake” and let your fear guide you (ego and fear can be seen as the same kind of thing). “We Knew You When” you did all of this stuff.

Track 10, “Nothing’s Wrong,” seems to be a song about acknowledging regret. People aren’t perfect, and even when they do decide to change their lives/”move on,” they’re susceptible to questioning their decisions. It’s just something that happens. It’s annoying as hell, though, when it does happen. You thought you moved on. So what do you do when you realize that you do have regrets? “How much can you take” is repeated over and over again, asking if you can really move on? You could probably also look at it as a song about a relationship that ended a long time ago, but the subject of the song finds himself/herself wondering about it quite often. Did I make the right decision ending that relationship? The subject ultimately believes he or she may have screwed things up but, at the same time, has no idea how to fix that feeling. It’s a weirdly complex thought to almost end an album on (there’s still one more song).

And Track 11, the final track, “The End,” is easily the saddest of the album. Clocking in at one minute, forty five seconds, it comes off as a song that someone would sing as a eulogy at a funeral. It’s haunting, beautiful, and then it just ends, kind of like life. No one is ever really prepared for the end, and it’s the survivors that end up singing about it. You can’t because you’re dead and gone. You can also see this as a song that’s a song for the survivors, but it’s a song sung in the voice of the dead. It’s like the dead is speaking from the netherworld, telling you not to mourn forever. “Just a photograph away from the saddest part of the day.” You’re not going to look at the photograph all of the time, but it’s there for you when you need to think about the dead.

So what are the odds that I’m right about any of these songs in terms of what they mean and what the album means/is trying to do? I’m likely dead wrong about it all. I’m probably reading way, way, way too much into these songs. There may not be an actual theme to the album at all. Perhaps Once Upon a Second Act is just a bunch of killer songs that System Syn came up with because System Syn wanted to make a new album. I’d imagine that anyone picking up Once Upon a Second Act out of the blue will go through the same series of thoughts. System Syn fans will likely come to a very different conclusion.

However, if I am right and this album is meant to be an examination of all of the things that happen when people engage in a second act of life, I would say that System Syn is successful at filling the album with all sorts of deep questions and observations about those ideas. If none of this stuff is actually in the album, though, System Syn is very good at making you think about things while listening to System Syn’s music, even if the stuff you end up thinking about is dead wrong. That’s fascinating. How often does a mainstream song or album do that kind of thing?

I think I may have to start listening to more System Syn, and delve more into the goth industrial genre. What else is going on inside this genre?

Be sure to check out Once Upon a Second Act when it hits the world June 26th. Listen to it, internalize it, interpret it, decide what you think it’s about. I’d like to know what it is I’m missing/reading into.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
I’m willing to admit that I’ve likely completely missed the point of System Syn’s latest album Once Upon a Second Act, my first foray into both System Syn and the industrial goth music genre. As something to just “listen” to, something to put on to block out the world’s other sounds and whatnot, it’s top notch stuff. From the actual music to Clint Carney’s singing, you’re going to be soothed by it all, even when you find yourself wanting to dance. But if you start listening to the lyrics and try to figure out if there’s something going on beyond simply music, the album could take you to places you never thought possible. Second life acts? How do they play out/how can they play out? How many people will succeed? How many people will fail? And how many people will just continue to exist? Yeah, that interpretation may be a bunch of nonsense, but I can’t remember the last time I listened to anything that made me think beyond the songs. Is that something System Syn traffics in? I think I’m going to make an effort to find out. Be sure to check out Once Upon a Second Act when it’s released onto the world June 26th. And be sure to check out System Syn’s official website at the link above.

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System Syn, Bryan Kristopowitz