Sound — 7
Being possibly the only band in the world to combine chiptune music with progressive and power metal, Sweden's Machinae Supremacy has established a style they refer to as "SID metal," referring to their use of the SidStation synthesizer, which uses the SID chip from a Commodore 64 as its sound module, mixed with their power metal sound. Now, their use of the SidStation is nowhere near as prevalent as one might think of a band that thinks of themselves as a chiptune band, keeping it as a background effect in most of the songs, and the metal aspects of this album are still emphasized rather heavily.
Featuring Robert "Gaz" Stjärnström on vocals, Jonas "Gibli" Rörling and Tomi Luoma on guitars, Andreas "Gordon" Gerdin on bass and keyboards (including the SidStation) and Niklas "Nicky" Karvonen on drums, the band's overall sound is reminiscent of early 2000s progressive/power metal bands like Shadow Gallery, Kamelot, Sonata Arctica, and generally have a very uplifting tone. Opening track "My Dragons Will Decimate" starts with the band's signature throbbing chiptune synths before launching into a high-tempo, melodic heavy verse and an epic, uplifting chorus. It's kind of a good tone-setter for the album as a whole. It's short, concise, punchy, and doesn't stick around any longer than it needs to. The album's title track follows, with pretty much the same formula on tap: a short, punchy song with a SidStation intro and very melodic, epic chorus melodies. "Twe27ySeven" follows, and it's just more of the same. Good riffs, good melodies, blip-y chiptune synths and a big, epic chorus. Three songs in, and the album is already starting to feel a little formulaic. Their formula is not a bad one, and luckily these first three songs are really short, as are all of the songs on the album. In fact, the next, "Remember Me," is the longest at just over five and a half minutes long. It's the first real deviation in the formula for the album, a piano-led ballad that sort of puts them on the same level as the bands mentioned in the introduction. And it does prove that the band can work beyond their "chiptune" gimmick. The song kicks into a heavier section for the guitar solo, and the second half of it is actually a really nice guitar solo, if rather cliched for this genre.
"Space Boat" and "Stars Die So That You Could Live" bring us back to the band's formula, though the latter has a rather lovely section before its guitar solo. The solo itself reminded me a bit of the work of Zacky and Synyster from Avenged Sevenfold, with its tight harmonization. "Beast Engine" and "Dream Sequence" are also strong tunes that fit in rather succinctly to the band's formula. "SID Metal Legacy" is a short instrumental that makes slightly more obvious use of the SidStation throughout the track, along with the band playing some nice riffs and melodies. It definitely sounds like a track that could be on any modern video game soundtrack. Closing the album is "The Last March of the Undead," the fifth and final part of the "March of the Undead" series that started in Stjärnström's former band Masugn. Of course, by this point, you can probably guess that this is another song in the band's blueprint.
Now, the formulaic nature of the music on this album may be a problem for those who like all of the songs on an album to have their own sonic identity, but personally, the band's sound is pretty good, and I don't really mind the fact that most of the songs are simply variations on the same themes. But if you've heard one song on this album, you can be sure that most of them are going to be very similar in style. The instrumental playing on the album is great, especially from the guitarists, whose solos are usually spot-on, and whose riffs are worth headbanging to. Nothing groundbreaking, especially if you're already a fan of the power metal genre, though I still think "power metal" is not really an appropriate description of their sound. More like Sonata Arctica's later material. The production is, as expected, slick, modern and loud. The layering's not so bad where you can't make out the guitar riffs or drum patterns, but the bass is often lost in the mix.
Lyrics — 6
"I will forge my own world, my own law
And if broken, my dragons will decimate
Without a single word ever spoken"
- "My Dragons Will Decimate"
"I will decide and shed forever
My frozen image here on earth
I’m being pulled into the Night World
Enter a Phantom Universe"
- "Into The Night World"
Oh, oh, this one:
"Come on baby,
Got a space boat just for two
It's all set, just me and you
Brace for escape velocity, now it's time to go!
Come on baby,
Got a way out, what are we to do?
I would have done it all for you
But ours is a different destiny,
Now it's time to go"
- "Space Boat"
This is where I'd probably just put a picture of a giant wheel of cheese if I could. Let's face it, like most power metal bands, you're not listening to this album for its lyrical depth. Even a song with a bit of depth in the title like "Stars Had to Die So That You Could Live," still kind of comes off as pseudo-intellectual political pandering in its lyrics ("That is who we are, from the dust of stars.../We fight over ridiculous things/While our sun expands to one day kill us all/A perfect end for the waste of space that we are") that are still dripping in cheese in every possible angle you look at them from. But this isn't really a bad thing, either. It's rather par for the course for power metal, and at least the band's poetry is a little more... poetic. You could honestly find much worse for lyrics in power metal, I mean, they're not DragonForce, for Pete's sake!
Vocally, Robert Stjärnström's voice is a bit of an acquired taste. There seems to be a sort of weird auto-tuned quality to them through out that sounds just weird through any set of speakers or headphones I've listened to the album through, and his voice, while pleasant enough, is just kind of too much of a wierd mix of Kamelot's Tommy Karevik and Shadow Gallery's previous vocalist, Mike Baker (RIP), with a hint of Geoff Tate for good measure. I mean, mixing three really excellent vocalists together into one style seems like a great idea, but honestly, it took a few listens for me to get into his singing.
Overall Impression — 7
I make no secret of my love of that distinctly European blend of progressive and power metal from the late 1990s and early 2000s (think basically the entirety of InsideOut Records' output, or any band whose singer has appeared on an Ayreon album), but even I have to admit that sometimes, it's just such a formulaic style that it loses my interest rather quickly. And while Machinae Supremacy have done a good job with the style they've got and even managed to transcend the idea of "chiptune metal" as a gimmick, this album does suffer from a style that's just a bit too monotonous and repetitive to make it suitable for repeated listens. The songs themselves are definitely good, and the fact that most of the songs are very short and concise means that it's not a hard album to sit through in its entirety, but it all just kind of breezes by without really catching my attention. The first few songs manage to stay fairly interesting, but it all kind of loses cohesion for me by the time "Remember Me" is over.
The album's other biggest downfall, in my opinion, is the vocals. The lyrics themselves are also pretty cheesy, but they're not really that bad. The vocals, though, are definitely something that's going to be a "love it or hate it" thing for first-time listeners. And for a genre known for its often incredible vocal performances, it's a little weird that I'm having a hard time getting into this band's vocals.
If you're already a Machinae Supremacy fan, this is a good album, though it may not please fans who enjoyed the stylistic shift on "Phantom Shadow," the band's previous, and somewhat poorly-received, concept album, which contained far longer and more epic songs. If you're not already a fan of the band, but enjoy the prog/power scene and the idea of "chiptune metal," this is still a pretty decent album, and worth a listen. Decent album, but that's about it, really.