Released: Aug 22, 2014
Genre: Alternative Metal, Chiptune
Label: Spinefarm Records
Number Of Tracks: 16
In "Phantom Shadow," Machinae Supremacy starts showing more interest in symphonic composition elements, but don't utilize them to their full potential.
Phantom ShadowFeatured review by: UG Team, on september 02, 2014 2 of 6 people found this review helpful
Sound: With the majority of niche metal bands opting for a medieval, "Dungeons & Dragons"-like aesthetic to their music, Machinae Supremacy instead set their sights on the video games they played while growing up. Being one of the first bands to create a hybrid sound of metal and chiptune (as they've dubbed "SID Metal"), the band would spend their unsigned beginning years putting out free music on their website and building up their fanbase through the internet, before signing with Music By Design Records and releasing their debut album "Deux Ex Machinae" in 2004. After the label went defunct in the midst of recording their next album, Machinae Supremacy would self-release the follow-up album "Redeemer," but would soon sign with Spinefarm Records and re-release the album to positive reception. Machinae Supremacy would also do video-game-oriented work, such as composing the original soundtrack for "Jets'n'Guns," making a cover of the theme song of the Nintendo game "Bionic Commando" for the 2009 sequel, and performing in the "Play! A Video Game Symphony" show with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Sticking to their schedule of a new album every two years, Machinae Supremacy have now released their sixth studio album, "Phantom Shadow."
After Machinae Supremacy's fourth album, "A View From the End of the World," arguably perfected the band's SID Metal style, Machinae Supremacy started to branch out into other hybrid metal styles, and in the following album, "Rise of a Digital Nation," they dabbled in more conventional synth usage in order to keep the chiptune aspect from not going stale - in "Phantom Shadow," Machinae Supremacy display a new side to them by incorporating more symphonic elements into their music. On paper, this usually is interpreted as ambitious, with knee-jerk comparisons to big symphonic metal practitioners like Epica and Septicflesh, but in the case of "Phantom Shadow," the outcome isn't as grand as one might expect. "Europa" is the band's most experimental track on the album, being a duet ballad driven by acoustic guitar and violins that crests with rich acoustic/electric guitar solos, making it a proper standout track. Aside from that, however, the only symphonic elements found in the album are in the short interlude tracks "I Wasn't Made for the World I Left Behind," "Meanwhile in the Hall of Shadows," "Captured (Sara's Theme)," "Redemption Was Never Really My Thing" and "Mortal Wound (Skye's Requiem)," where the majority of those tracks also serve as stark narrative voiceovers, akin to the narrative tracks on Eluveitie's most recent albums.
Though listeners may have hoped for some symphonic elements infused into their metal tracks, or some integration of symphonic melodies and chiptune melodies, Machinae Supremacy unfortunately don't offer that here. This results in the primary metal aspect of the album being business as usual for the most part. The folk-metal-esque jovialness in the riffage of "The Second One" makes it one of the more interesting tracks on the album, and the guitarwork is most admirable in "Throne of Games," "Phantom Battle," "Renegades" and "Versus," but the chiptune elements are severely lacking in these songs. Only half of the songs that contain chiptune sounds ("Perfect Dark," "Beyond Good and Evil" and "The Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall") use them as actual integral melody ingredients whereas the other half ("The Villain of This Story," "Throne of Games" and "Renegades") come off as being shoehorned and disposable. Both of these issues with the chiptune and the symphonic elements highlight the main problem with "Phantom Shadow": its wishy-washy approach to the numerous sound elements it wants to entertain, resulting in a small-portioned sample tray rather than a sumptuous spread. // 5
Lyrics: Like the numerous power metal bands that strongly commit to medieval subject matter, Machinae Supremacy's lyrics have had a tendency for breaching into cheesy territory due to their deep investment in video-game-oriented subject matter ("Crouching Camper, Hidden Sniper" can easily be considered that apex). In tandem with the bigger aspirations that Machinae Supremacy display in the music side of the album, the lyrics in "Phantom Shadow" make up a full concept that span throughout the album; which, most likely intended, sounds very much like a plotline for a video game. With the unnamed protagonist freed from existential limbo by another unnamed character, the protagonist is clear to describe himself an anti-hero in "The Villain of This Story," and wondering why he deserves being brought back into the world. He soon realizes his battle skills are necessary in "Perfect Dark," and fights alongside his friend in "Throne of Games." Though the protagonist soon realizes this allegiance is a farce in "The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall," and the protagonist ends up bittersweetly defeating his former ally in "Versus," and welcoming his uncertain future in the final song "Hubnester Rising." // 7
Overall Impression: Though the leap from the harbinger album "A View From the End of the World" to the following "Rise of a Digital Nation" was a downtick, the electronica-metal style it contained was a comfortable change into something relatively different. "Phantom Shadow" attempts an even bigger change, but the inability to really commit to that style change leaves Machinae Supremacy uncomfortably stretched on the album. With only one foot in the new music elements being tried out, the meager commitment makes the experimentation come off as pedestrian, and with one foot in their classic style, the less-than-total investment makes the SID Metal compositions inferior to Machinae Supremacy's earlier works. "Phantom Shadow" isn't a total bust, but a lot more could have been done in order for the album's multi-faceted sound reach its full potential. // 5
RosetaStoned351, on october 01, 2014 3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Sound: Machinae Supremacy returns with their first ever attempt at a concept album. The result is a diverse and technicaly impressive record, that contains elements from all previous albums, especially the first one and their pre-album work. The story takes place in the future where a group of people have gained super in exchange for their souls. The songs are sung from the perspective of a main protagonist, that has to unite with others to fight evil. This story is clearly inspired by Japanese videogames and that movie "Divergent," which came out in 2013. The concept works really well and the album as a whole is awesome, but the individual songs never reach the epicness of the bands best. However, there are songs that stand out, like "Throne of Games," "The Second One" & "Beyond Good and Evil." Other songs stand out because their different, such as "Hubnester Rising," which focuses on an epic guitar melody instead of having a chorus. It actually sounds a bit like a Kalmah song at first. "The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall" sounds like a huge boss battle throughout most of the song.
Phantom Shadow is the first album where the guitars aren't only written by Jonas Rörling, even if it's uncertain on how much music Tomi Luoma has contributed for the album. The guitarwork is just as impressive as always, while being more diverse then ever. Most impressive is "Throne of Games" with its fast paced power metal/rock guitarwork and soloing. However, there's one thing missing from this album, and that is the heavy riffs we've gotten used to hear on every album. There is a lot of memorable melodies but just not enough memorable riffs. When it comes to the drumming it's just as expected; great but not exceptional. The bass could be more audible, but it's not a problem. This album definitely has the most SID in it since the first one, which a lot of fans will appreciate. // 9
Lyrics: Robert Stjärnström's lyrics are just as unique and well written as we're used to, and the concept takes you on a journey, even though it's nothing like the best concept albums out there, such as Opeth's "Still Life" or Fear Factory's "Demanufacture." Robert's singing is still very much excellent, with catchy choruses and contagious vocal-melodies. I've always liked how much emotion he has in his singing and that he sounds different from any other vocalist. The best choruses this time are found in the songs "The Villain of This Story" and "Perfect Dark." The lyrical highlight is "Throne of Games," which features really great classic MaSu lyrics; "Why don't you play it like a game? - If that is all you know, why not display some fucking mad skills. Bring it on right now!" and "Put on your game face and reset that switch inside." No other band makes me sing along more than Machinae Supremacy, and that is definitely one of their strongest sides. // 9
Overall Impression: "Phantom Shadow" will not disappoint you, but it won't amaze you either. Out of the 6 albums, I would put it at nr. 5 below "Rise of a Digital Nation" and above "Deus Ex Machinae." If you're new to the band, I recommend starting with the "Overworld" album instead, but this is still a very solid album, that I recommend to anyone with an open mind. Machinae Supremacy is truly one of best and most interesting bands right know. The strongest tracks are "Throne of Games," "Perfect Dark," "Renegades," "Beyond Good and Evil," "The Second One" & "Hubnester Rising." // 8