As a member of Diskonnekted and Your Life On Hold, Jan Dewulf has cultivated his skills in songwriting and production for a number of years, and now he brings all of them to bear on I Was Never Really There, his debut album as Mildeda. Throughout these 11 tracks, the listener is inserted into a miasma of entrancing layers of synth pads and steely bass lines the likes of which are sure to remind many of the second wave of underground industrial… and why not? After all, Dewulf has cited the likes of Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, and The Klinik as his primary influences on this record, so it makes sense; however, this does create the issue of some songs bearing these influences too well, such as on “Reinvention of Pain” with its noisy glitch-laden breakbeats offset by a trickling ascending bass line, the scratchy leads and breaks of “Opposite Choice,” or on the celestial trance passages and samples of “Dream Machine,” both sounding as if they were culled from the sessions of FLA’s Epitaph, the raspy vocals enhanced by a rather wonderful vocoder treatment. Similarly, the bouncy and metallic bass of “In the Vacuum of Your Mind,” complete with the aforementioned vocoder and some rather engaging beat structures, could’ve easily been taken from Skinny Puppy’s Cleanse, Fold, and Manipulate, the tried and true chord progression of the chorus making for one of the record’s more satisfying moments. Of course, it also helps that some veterans of the scene lend their skills to Mildreda, with Dirk Ivens’ cleaner vocal tone adding a modicum of desperation to the militant EBM of “Echoes,” its cold progression of pads and plucking synth arpeggios creating a light but palpable melody, while Numb’s presence on “Erased” enhances its slithery and menacing vibe, the choppy beats and brassy samples contributing to the song’s distinctive ambience. Already a standout for its piano-driven gothic flair, “Blame It On the Moon” sets Cyan’s disaffected yet emotive vocals against a pulsating EBM rhythm that resembles more of the proto-futurepop of early Apoptygma Berzerk, while the Teutonic and descending orchestral flourishes of “Liaisons Dangereuses” make for another of the album’s finer moments. “Inner Judgement” is also noteworthy for its retro-dystopian embellishments as layers of trancelike arpeggios, howling pads, haunted samples, and straightforward dance beats are sure to induce reveries of VIVIsectVI or Too Dark Park, but the subtlety of the sound design and the lively synth leads have a decidedly modern – dare I say, synthwave – feel. Yes, Jan Dewulf is clearly embracing his influences and making no effort to conceal them behind a façade of artistic pretense or false claims of originality; there is something inherently refreshing about that, and his aptitude for production and arrangement ensures that I Was Never Really There is at least an immersive aural experience. Alas, the album will still sound to some like less than the sum of its parts, resting firmly on the shoulders of giants rather than reaching higher. But as debut albums go, it’s a good start, and it will be interesting to hear if or how the project develops away from the confines of past modes of electro/industrial toward something more readily identifiable as Mildreda.