Harsh Symmetry Presents His Emotionally Charged New Darkwave Masterpiece Imitation
On his sophomore record, Julian Sharwarko blends the nostalgic elements of bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure with the modern sounds of contemporary acts such as Twin Tribes and Boy Harsher.
Today, Los Angeles-based Darkwave artist Julian Sharwarko, better known as Harsh Symmetry, released his second album. The record is entitled Imitation and is a surprisingly versatile LP that easily works with paradoxes and musical nuance – a gentle and emotional oasis in the Darkwave scene that is nevertheless easy to lose yourself to.
Harsh Symmetry kicked off a retro-inspired career in 2022 with the groovy, pulsing track “Mirror Twin”. Compared to Imitation, this earlier work owed much more to classic Post-Punk in terms of the simplicity and catchiness of its riffs. It functioned as a great start that introduced the combination of shimmering guitars and weary-sounding yet heartfelt vocals to a constantly growing fanbase.
Yet it is where Imitation differs, that it innovates. The album starts with an instrumental track and throughout, its songs are held together by very different beats to the classic pulsing 4/4 that seeps through from many of the 80s acts Harsh Symmetry pays homage to. Ultimately there are connections to Italo-Disco and to 90s Shoegaze that diverge from the classics of the 80s.
Nevertheless, Sharwarko is still a proper homage to the era, without having lost his sound to the conventions of modern Synth-Pop. His debut record Display Model kept in line with the combination of darkness and hookiness that was seen in his first single. Yet Imitation is a bit of a different ballgame. This is an album that is a mixture of softness and darkness with more tender emotions. And it works because of the effort Harsh Symmetry has put into exploring his own sound. Essentially, he is not afraid to mix atmosphere. There are harsh sounds, and spacy sounds, yes, but with his self-examining lyrics these are always tempered by the gentle fuzz of his layered approach to production.
Like his debut record, Imitation is released on Fabrika Records, where Display Model was actually mixed by Doruk Öztürkcan of Darkwave colleagues She Past Away. Yet the paradoxes it manages to explore are ones that face the entire scene and subgenre – how to blend technology and space-age sounds with enough of a sense of rawness and realism to convey emotion? And how not to lose emotion amongst industrial sounds?
Of the album, Sharwarko has said that it is his response to consistently being compared to acts such as The Cure, Cocteau Twins, and other classic 80s Post-Punk outfits. Whilst flattering, where does his own musical identity come in amongst these? The soul searching within the album – and the musical choices he makes – show an artist who is obviously thinking about his niche. Fragmented beats that surprise a listener used to characteristic Post-Punk and Darkwave rhythms – these are what Imitation is made of. As a result, it seems like Sharwarko may not has that much to worry about.
Indeed, the album starts as it means to go on with lead single “Glass Tears” after its initial instrumental introduction. A clouded haze of vocals over an addictive bassline and overlapping, syncopated synth drums and riffs. It’s an exploration of rhythm that doesn’t disappoint. Layers of guitars build as the track goes on, adding new rhythms to tantalize before veering into echoing chords during the fade-out. Other standout tracks are “Crystal Smile”, with a thick and heavy bassline that powers through the track, as well as “Scalpel”, where rattling and mechanical drum textures emphasize the plaintive vocals. The album also features a cover of Madonna’s “Open Your Heart,” reinterpreted through a hauntingly mysterious lens.
Meanwhile, Sharwarko is aesthetically almost the poster child of the genre, with spiked hair and black eyeliner. However, his personal style has an understated sophistication that goes with the very slight hints of Shoegaze that permeate some of the tracks both on Imitation and in his earlier work.
With two LPs released over the course of two years, Harsh Symmetry is prolific by any artist’s standards. What’s great is that Shawarko has also managed to keep a distinct sound for each of them. It’s easy to see him developing as an artist. Yet Fabrika Records is home to many of the biggest names of the current Post-Punk scene and there is a lot of competition when it comes to standing out. The combination of harshness and softness makes this easy though. For now, Imitation is simply an immensely relistenable, hypnotic, and addictive LP. Its clouded vocals and fuzzy synths make it a great gateway to the rest of his work and to the underground music scene as a whole.