Sound — 9
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.
Lyrics — 9
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.
Overall Impression — 8
"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."