Year In Review: The Unfinished Zebra, Repro, & Serum Presets & Soundsets
World-class synth sounds
Cutting edge cinematic styles
Useful beyond pure scoring ie. for electronic artist projects
Very playable via mod wheel and XY pads
Clearly focussed packs
Repro Structure is particularly special
We finally have The Unfinished using Serum!
Output volume is a bit loud on some patches (nitpicking here though!)
The Unfinished is at the very top of his game with his latest four soundsets for Zebra, Repro, and Serum. They encompass a variety of styles from delicate, electronica musings to powerful and futuristic sounds, ideal for modern soundtracks. For synth programming with a cinematic edge, they are inspirational as feature sounds and supremely useful as supportive elements.
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Review: Zebra Lazarus Vol 3 & 4 / Repro Structure / Zebra Refrakt / Serum Alpha by The Unfinished
Read the Interview with Matt Bowdler of The Unfinished here.
To say Matt Bowdler, aka The Unfinished, has had a career-defining past twelve months is a bit of an understatement. His ongoing commercial releases for u-he synths were complemented by being featured on not just one, but two of the biggest films from last year; The Unfinished worked with Hans Zimmer on synth programming and additional production for both A Time To Die and Dune. Very recently we also saw him finally bless Serum with his synth chops. There’s plenty happening then and since SLR has not caught up with Matt’s work for a while, a good nosey into his latest soundsets is well overdue! We also put some questions to the man himself which you can find here.
Various normally sells for Varies from The Unfinished
Zebra Lazarus Vol 3 & 4: With a total of 720(!) patches split between Zebra and ZebraHZ there is a lot to explore here. The emphasis across the two collections is on futuristic, high-energy, and dramatic sounds with a nod to classic analog. They are inspired by computer game soundtracks such as Deus Ex and Borderlands, so be prepared for plenty of dystopian sci-fi. I especially liked the rhythms going on here – the loops are superb with a glitchy and often noisy texture that have a range of timbres built into the XY controllers.
Arguably, what Matt is best known for are his pads and Lazarus Vol 3 & 4 goes to the max with lush, epic types that often have a retro analog heart, but with a very modern edge. These go big right up to multiplex filling trailer size! A simple wiggle of the mod wheel is always advised, as it often involves more than a mere filter sweep and can really help a pad evolve.
For more experimental use, Zebra can be hugely powerful and this is shown in some of the soundscapes that have been crafted. They can form a deep layer within a musical composition, or be used directly for sound design purposes. The screenshot below shows a ZebraHZ preset, which offers a variation on a theme from the original version.
Repro Structure: This soundset takes everything down a notch in comparison, as it explores the more beautifully subtle synths used in the neo-classical cross-over styles of artists such as Jon Hopkins, Clark, and Olafur Arnalds. When synthetic sounds have to blend with real instruments, the warm and gritty sounds from emulations of classic analog synths often work best which is why this collection revolves around Repro-1 and Repro-5 – models of the Sequential Circuits Pro-One and Prophet-5. The presets here are really on point, treading that interesting line between minimal techno and contemporary orchestral scoring.
Everything in Structure is very much to my own personal taste, but the basslines especially stand out, probably in part due to the nuanced use of the detailed sequencer in Repro-1. There are powerful bouncing phrases, low throbs that occasionally throw up a barking filter rip, and low-key hypnotic patterns.
In this genre there are plenty of pianos, often felted and effected in other ways, so I was very interested to see what Repro-5 had to offer on the keys section that could blend with, or be an alternative to, a real piano. There are some gorgeous sounding gentle keys with that clicky, textural percussive detail underneath them that adds so much to the typically minimal compositions of the genre.
Zebra Refrakt: Taking cues from the likes of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross and Charlie Clouser this set for Zebra and ZebraHZ is all about action scoring. It’s frenetic, deep, distorted, and energetic. The key focus is on those supportive elements that form the framework of quality action cues and keep them driving along; it’s pretty thin on pads and there is not a single lead sound in sight. What you do get is a plethora of rhythmic devices; pumping basslines, frantic percussive loops, and inspiring sequences. The bass patches are also front and centre here and display a depth and power that is instant modern Hollywood action. There is also a welcoming large amount of sound design, such as atmospheres and sweeps, which is normally less populous in Matt’s work.
Many of the loops and pulses are designed to basically be excitement injectors alongside pounding percussion parts, but a few of the sequences are cue starters in their own right, with fully realized melodic patterns. Everything on offer has extensive mod wheel and XY control built in – essential for these sorts of sounds which cycle round and round, as you need the easy ability to morph the sound and keep it interesting.
The ZebraHZ versions remix the original patches into darker, more analog versions. I really like this concept that many sound designers use with Zebra and it’s always worth checking out the HZ version of your chosen patch.
Serum Alpha: The Unfinished has long been creating sounds for u-he synths and Omnisphere, but up until this point has not put his talents to one of the other synths that seem to attract so many synthesists to create packs for. Enter, Xfer Serum! Yes, the wait is over with the release of Alpha, and Matt has dived in straight away to what this synth does best – powerful, precise, punchy, and often a little crazy too.
The result is a meeting of EDM stylings and the latest modern soundtracks, with people like Ludwig Goransson and Photek being referenced. There are 150 presets here and you also get a few custom wavetables and three natty skins thrown in for good measure. The basses are superb and have such weight and distinctive character that together with the appropriate drums they can totally carry an entire cue along singlehandedly!
If you liked Tenet there is plenty in here that reflects the restless, unsettling energy of that score, with fidgeting sequences and relentless basslines. There are also some very cool lead and synth sounds that have a complexity to the sound which lends itself so well to less wordy melodies, where distinctive timbre is as important as the notes that are played.
For modern synth sounds for film, TV, computer games, and more left-field electronica artist projects there are few to rival The Unfinished at the moment. I find many of his presets to be hugely inspirational during the compositional stage and they always have an uncanny way of playing nicely with more organic elements too. The four packs covered here all display plenty of subtle nuances, especially in Repro Structure, and also really brutal and powerful sounds that are increasingly prominent in Hollywood blockbusters, as well demonstrated in Serum Alpha. Matt does extensive walkthroughs of all his releases alongside composer demo tracks, so I recommend checking those out to get a good idea about what to expect from each soundset.
If you want to know a little bit more about how he started, his process, his views on the emotional power of synths, and who would win in a synth bar fight, read the exclusive SLR interview with The Unfinished here.
Refrakt, Structure and Alpha contain 150 patches for u-he Zebra & ZebraHZ, Repro-1 & Repro-5 and Xfer Records’ Serum respectively.
Lazarus Vol 3 and Lazarus Vol 4 each have 180 patches for both Zebra and ZebraHZ.
Repro Structure includes NKS files.
All the Zebra soundsets are available as a Dark Edition, which includes both the original
and ZebraHZ version.
Various larger bundles are also available that include these preset packs.
A full version of each synth is required to use any of these soundsets.
Each preset is available from The Unfinished
Contributor Sam Burt reviews the 2021 releases of The Unfinished
“The Unfinished is at the very top of his game with his latest four soundsets for Zebra, Repro and Serum. They encompass a variety of styles from delicate, electronica musings to powerful and futuristic sounds, ideal for modern soundtracks. For synth programming with a cinematic edge they are inspirational as feature sounds and supremely useful as supportive elements.”