Review: Zebra Osiria by Sonic Underworld


Sonic Underworld pulls no punches in this comprehensive dark and twisted soundset for u-he Zebra. These are the sounds of sending a synth to hell and back (in a good way!).

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Review: Zebra Osiria by Sonic Underworld

The synth programming work of Stephan Baer, aka Sonic Underworld, is a reviewer favourite here at SLR. Over the past few years he has been knocking out stellar sound sets for composer favoured synth stalwarts like Zebra, Diva and Omnisphere. Although no stranger to the dark side of Zebra, with the likes of the Maridor soundset this latest offering, Osiria, takes us into weirder dimensions with a definite angle on horror/suspense.

Zebra Osiria sells for $35 from Sonic Underworld


Starting with generalities, each of the 180 presets has variable parameters mapped to the modwheel, making it really playable from the outset. Often (but not always) pushing the modwheel will open up the sound in some manner, maybe with a filter sweep, more distortion, a longer sustain or a host of other options. The majority also come with all four of the performance XY pads engaged, with each preset having a bespoke selection of parameters depending on what elements will most change that specific patch. I find these superb for tweaking the original sound without having to get into the detail of the main modular page, and additionally they can be very useful for automating so your part can morph either subtly or more drastically over time. I will now take you through the various sound categories with a bit of detail on particular favourites of mine.

The Arps bristle with a jittery energy, sometimes dissonant, sometimes distorted and sometimes both! There are some pretty wacky rhythms with accented pulses that keep you on your toes. Props to the Razzer preset which uses aftertouch – this is such an instinctive cc controller, I wish developers would include it more!

Aside from a couple the Basslines are all pretty speedy and drive along with a sinister motivation. There is loads of distortion and compression going on and many of the patterns are relatively simple with the focus more on the sheer brutality of the sound. A good example of this is Vile.

On the surface it appears like a simple single oscillator patch, but it’s a bit deeper under the hood. The pulse is actually triggered via LFO2 on the Osc FX set to ‘Expander’, rather than the more obvious sequencer option. The waveform is also a custom sawtooth type which then goes through two filters, a comb filter and some heavy distortion before being frequency modulated and strongly compressed. The modwheel dampens the high frequencies a bit which makes the distortion back off a touch.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Basses offer a few options for cleaner subs amongst the more numerous growling, menacing patches. Some of these sound really huge with an epic stereo spread. There is a good range of attacks, which is critical in a bass sound, from clicky snaps all the way to the reverse sweep type. The bass presets are followed by a small number of short and nasty Drum sounds and then we are onto the FX. There are sounds here I would not have guessed Zebra could create, which is testament to both u-he and the programming prowess of Sonic Underworld. There are eerie alarms, distorted scrapes and aggressive atmospheres, all of which would make for interesting scoring for modern horror with a synthetic edge.

The Keyboards are really inspiring as they give some melodic options beyond the more familiar chimey music box sounds often used in horror. There are ten hideously detuned keyboard sounds any of which could be a featured instrument in a cue. A Tragic Loss is described as an antique broken piano. Here we have FM synthesis colliding with ring modulation and comb filtering with the addition of the oft neglected MMix modulator. Once run through the brilliant Zebra reverb it is truly haunting.

A Tragic Loss Preset


There is no shortage of Pads in Osiria and they cover a range of emotions. Demonia evokes unsettling impending doom, whilst Nachtschatten has a sombre and mysterious quality. There is also haunting, tension stuff like in the Blinded by Fear patch. Held as drones and manipulating the texture via the modwheel can lead to exceptional results. Evergrey, for example, starts quite gritty yet morphs to something far more ethereal.

The Pulses are very varied but all share the same frenzied feel. It’s mostly noisy, percussive stuff here and the modwheel is lots of fun to try out on all the presets. The Soundscapes share the same dark cinematic sound signature as the pads, but by definition are more atonal. It really pays to hold down the key on these as the sounds are quite long and evolving. The Eater of Dreams preset shows this off brilliantly.


Eater of Dreams Preset

It begins with a percussive sound that dies off as a dual layered soundscape blooms – one part being a lower industrial drone and the other a super high pitched squeal that gradually descends in pitch, increasingly enveloped in a huge reverb. A triple layered sound from just one single key press – this is highly skilled programming indeed!

The collection is rounded out by a number of very distorted Synth patches. Some are simply powerful and aggressive whilst others are detuned and otherworldly. In the absence of any leads in this collection these synth sounds pretty much fulfill that role. There is a good range of options here for distinctive monophonic lead lines with a dark and disturbing edge.

To sum up, if you like your synths to sound like they come from a dystopian future where evil robots stalk you in the daytime and demons prowl at night you have come to the right place! Osiris is a real gem of a toolkit for anyone composing for horror, sci-fi, thrillers and dark dramas who wants that modern synthetic twist. Although aimed at the composer market it would also be attractive for artists who write more experimental and edgy electronic based music. If you need further convincing check out the superb demos and the comprehensive walkthrough below. The sounds are highly evocative and the depth and nuance of synth programming is of the highest caliber. Perhaps none of Stephan’s other sound sets quite live up to the company name as much as this one – Osiria truly is a Sonic Underworld!


Osiria consists of 180 presets for the u-he Zebra soft synth. End users will need a fully licensed copy of Zebra to use this product.

Zebra Osiria sells for $35 from Sonic Underworld


Demos of Zebra Osiria by Sonic Underworld

Videos of Zebra Osiria by Sonic Underworld

Contributor Sam Burt reviews Zebra Osiria by Sonic Underworld
“Sonic Underworld pulls no punches in this comprehensive dark and twisted soundset for u-he Zebra. These are the sounds of sending a synth to hell and back (in a good way!).”