In the normal course of events, reviewers come to this chamber to report on the state of music. Tonight, no such report is needed. It has already been delivered by the Sputnik people. We have seen the state of our Music scene in the endurance of the listeners, working past exhaustion and tediousness. We have seen the unfurling of lyric booklets, the lighting of joints (at least according to previous muses), the giving of blood, and the singing of then next generation of “heroes” -- in screams, growls, and even crooning. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving music fan base who have made the grief of bands their own. My fellow music lovers, for the last six months, the entire world has seen for itself the state of new releases -- and it is weak. Tonight we are a site awakened to danger and called to defend musical experimentation. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we find new and exciting bands, or finally see a band release a great album, justice will be done.
And by golly fellow MX’ers, justice has been done. Machinae Supremacy
have released what is arguably the best album of the year in a little album entitled Redeemer
. Combining elements of power metal, Electronica, and even power-pop, Machinae Supremacy
have made a name for themselves in their native land of Sweden as a rather interesting blend of traditional metal values and video game music. To support this aesthetic, instead of a normal keyboard or synthesizer, they employ what is known as a SidStation, which to those un-savvy of its origins, is based off of the sound chip (the SID chip) of the old Commodore 64, a computer many of you may have fond memories of (I know I sure don’t). This in combination with the rather strange vocal stylings of Robert Stjärnström and excellent musicianship by other members of the band gives MaSu (the common abbreviation) a distinct sound that is one of the most unique I’ve heard in quite a while.
The first thing you’ll notice is vocalist Robert Stjärnström’s strange voice. For a good picture of what he sounds like, imagine Adam Lazzara, plus some balls, and he hails from northern Europe. Still not getting it? Well then, think of Kamelot
with an added bit of whine and bite. Stjärnström. Although admittedly one of the whinier vocalists I’ve heard in quite a while, manages to be epic all the same. On tracks like Rise
, he gives the music that Operatic feel you may have noticed while listening to them (oh come on, I have the song on the page, you should have listened to it). However, to supplant all of his crazy vocals, Stjärnström has crafted some of the strangest lyrics you’ll hear this side of Primus
. The songs run the gamut from fanciful tales of heroes, the despair of being alone, the loss of personal identity in society, and at times things that are absolutely inane. For example, here are a few choice lines from Rise
Ever since I knew the hive
I’ve been accumulating misery
But I can see there are those who thrive
bloom in the age of Reality™
Heavy stuff, eh? Well, then there’s tracks like Kaori Stomp:
You're so cool, love the style
eyes crazy, hair like a child
a single taste, and I smile
truly free, running wild
Well, after that just flash of insanity, we need something to ground us, right? How about a little tale of a teddy bear who saved the world? Well, that’s what Oki Kumas Adventure
My burden an awful load
my chest holds a heart of gold
in the stories a child is told
a legend amongst the old
See the point yet? MaSu can certainly cover a diverse range of topics, all the while being fresh and fun while avoiding that whole “cheesy” deal. Well…for the most part.
Of course, all that’s well and fine, but the real meat and potatoes of the album is in the instrumentation. Jonas Rörling, guitarist for the band, is easily the standout member. Instead of having two guitarists, the band opts to have Rörling handle all matters, and he does so in brilliant fashion. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he doesn’t just shred his way through songs, and instead just goes balls-to-the-walls with his riffs, which are some of the most impressive I’ve seen. One of his main strengths is the build-ups he’ll experiment with; he’ll slowly build up a frantic pace with a riff, and right before you’d expect to hear him blast into a solo, he instead drops off completely and allows the SidStation to take over. Speaking of that, Andreas Gerdin utilizes his brand of synth in perfect fashion. Acting in a much larger capacity than most keyboardists or synth players would, the SidStation will often take over as the leading instrument, and the strange video-game like noises Gerdin pumps out of it give MaSu a rather child-like appeal. The bleeps, bloops, and all that crazy nonsense you heard when you were a kid playing Galaga is present, along with some insane guitar synths that when tweaked by Gerdin, sound like something out of a Star Wars game. It’s completely geektastic, and yet somehow manages to rock harder than anything Metallica
have put out for twenty years.
While they may be the most unique and impressive members of MaSu, it’s only because they’re truly something else. The remaining two members still are quite the forces in their own rights, and drummer Tomas Nilsén is a hidden gem. His drumming is often furious and powerful, and occasionally he’ll let out a crazy bit of drum wankery that causes the song to come crashing to a halt. Then he brings it all back with his relentless pounding, and all that happens is you’re left in wonder at how he could do that. Mind you, he’s no technical genius, but to be able to hold songs together of the epic scope that he manages to do (and almost flawlessly throughout the album), credit must be given. Bassist Johan Palovaara, however, is something of a sad story, and is the cause of the only flaw I have found in the album. That’s not to say he’s a weak bass player; in fact, when
you can hear him and his effects-heavy bass work, its actually quite rollicking, giving a nice solid backbone to the song. Hate
, for example, features some one of the most interesting bass lines I’ve ever heard that could fit behind a Zelda game. However, the mix does favor every other facet of the music far above the bass, so instead of getting to hear his actual playing, you mostly just get a rough idea of what’s going on, which is rather disappointing.
Yet, while all of that is fine and dandy, the most important facet of what MaSu does is the way they all intertwine and create an epic “landscape” (for lack of a better word, although “atmosphere” could very well be better suited, so as not to offend and black metal fans here). Much of their music is rooted in the idea of being absolutely epic in scope, with being constantly in your face and “womg look at us we play good”. For example, on Empire
, there’s a pounding drumbeat that leads you into a soaring guitar riff, all accompanied by a choir “oh-oh”-ing. It’s just one of many such moments on the album, and it invariably leads into the strange lulls that are usually led by the SidStation, and gives nearly every song a unique dynamic. “But wait John, how is it unique if its that same formula in every song?” I’ll tell ya, sonny boy; the power of the SidStation is just that great. For all the blistering guitar work, ferocious drumming, and operatic vocals, the thing that truly makes everything so wonderful and, well, delicious, is the marvelous tones that come out of the SidStation. It also helps that everyone else pretty much owns face at their instrument.
I suppose before I close this whole debacle out, I should probably mention some standout tracks for all of you to get your greedy little hands on. Well, the psuedo-single Rise
(basically, the song they’re pushing people to show off), is perhaps overall the strongest song on the album, as the slow keyboard intro slowly melds into Rörling’s guitar playing, and then just an explosion of riffage all over your figurative musical face. It’s also Stjärnström’s strongest vocal performance on the album, as he expounds on how society belittles individuality. Okie Kumas Adventure
is obviously an indication it hasn’t affected them yet, as the entire song is about a teddy bear who essentially saves the world. Yeah, its weird, and its still awesome. It’s one of the most power ballad-like songs on the album, as the guitar takes a complete backseat as the SidStation produces an almost nu-wave feeling atmosphere, until of course Rörling comes back roaring in the chorus. The final and most interesting song on the album is Empire
, a track mostly devoid of any real vocal work. Instead, we get the previously mentioned brutal drumming (and even bass), and some of the best soloing by Rörling on the album. The last three minutes of the song are almost completely him wanking out on the effects pedal, with an extra riff track being layered over it, just for that extra punch.
is undoubtedly the most impressive album I’ve heard all year, not only because its from some no name bunch of losers from Sweden (seriously, shouldn’t they be playing death metal or something?), but because they’ve truly crafted an inimitable record with an incredible amount of musicianship, songwriting prowess, and overall zest for what they’re doing. Every song they make could (relatively) be a highlight on a good amount of the albums I’ve heard not only this year, but of the past 5. Redeemer
deserves to be the album that, at the end of the year, everyone is talking about, and Machinae Supremacy
at least deserve to be the band you next check out when you have a few minutes of free time to spare. Oh, but make sure you can miss whatever appointment you’ll have next, as you’ll probably want to go play Space Invaders