So I’m actually going to do a first for this review. Until now, I have never given a progressive metal album that didn’t have any other genre attached to it (such as folk metal, death metal, etc.) an 8 or higher. I’ve often bagged on about “oh man, if only get to like generic prog, I really want to like this but I’m retarded and don’t have the capacity to enjoy simple things” etc. Well fear not jaded prog fans that view my site for some reason, hope as arrived. Wolverine just made me a believer with their new album Machina Viva, a depressing and soulful look journey that made me self discover what I really want from progressive metal.
And it started when I came to the realization that I loved this and they weren’t doing anything super weird. I know, I’ve said both that prog needs to push boundaries, and that there’s nothing wrong with being generic. I feel like both are true in certain situations, but to be honest I don’t give a shit about hypocrisy, whatever helps me make my point at the time is fine. If I said something contradictory to that earlier, then well, oops I guess, things change. For my argument that being generic is fine, I’ve often stipulated that bands still need to add something for me to latch onto. I can’t just hear wanky alt/power metal for 50 minutes and be impressed. Wolverine passes this with flying colors. There is a distinct depressive atmosphere to this album that remains consistent throughout the entire work, and one I don’t remember experiencing on any other album I’ve listened to. Prog is generally a happy genre, filled with wannabe goofballs that think wacky chugs are the way to go for experimental music. There is nothing wacky or chug reliant on Machina Viva. The whole record is not necessarily immersed in any riffs or particular melodies (though they aren’t too shabby on the melody department either, the main melody to Nemesis in unf worthy), but a direct focus on providing a calm and introspective atmosphere.
There is this unique melancholy to this album that you just don’t experience often in metal, outside of maybe depressive black metal. Though to be fair, this is barely metal. I would’ve reviewed it anyway, but this is maybe 15-20% metal, and the rest prog rock and electronic. Which fuck, I HAVE to talk about the electronic synths here.
One of the reasons the whole feel of the album is consistently mellow is how subtle the synths are. They add this ethereal, alien-like aspect to the music, that contrasts so well with the extremely human sound of the guitars. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like there’s this slight impersonal tone that in an abstract way further cements the feeling of isolation and loneliness that I get from this record. You know how they say depression is a warm blanket? That’s kind of how I feel here. The guitars and vocals are the depression, the synths are the blanket. There’s this warm sadness throughout the whole album that actually made it quite difficult for me to review until multiple listens (which is tough on time, this is over an hour long). I love how sometimes I even mistake the synths for other instruments, like horns or saxophones. I say that if the synths are good enough to make me think they’re using french horns, it’s a job well done.
I do want to touch briefly on some faults however. I can’t really pick a favorite track on this album, partially because they’re all so spectacular, but also because the album is very monotone in it’s flavor. It delivers melancholy, and ONLY melancholy. There needed to be more tracks like Shed, which put a different, even somewhat happier spin on the established canon of the record. Pile of Ash kind of does this, but I see that as more the generic acoustic guitar track that I guess is mandatory in prog albums. I don’t like how that track and Nemesis just end with no conclusion. Like they just stop, there’s some silence, then they move on to the next track. Takes me out of the album for a bit, it’s jarring. Also there’s the issue of Machina just being too quiet, not as a dynimc, but just from a production perspective. The studio should’ve turned the volume up slightly, that’s all. I would’ve liked a bit more oomph in the production, I feel like no matter how good your music is, if you can’t physically feel the music at all, it can only do so much. I’ve recently bagged on bands for being too noisy in their production, but I feel like there’s a difference between not being able to hear the instrumentals, and just not feeling the music in your gut at all. You need that little love tap to make the emotional punches really count.
I think if maybe one of the tracks would’ve been replaced with something a bit more diverse in nature this would’ve been a 9 easily. Machina feels a bit weak that doesn’t have the impact the run of tracks from Our Last Goodbye to Nemesis does. It’s weird, because Machina does try to be a bit more experimental with the electronics, but it isn’t experimental enough to justify it’s place on the album, and doesn’t have some of the tension building that Wolverine does so well on this record. Before I end I do have to speak about that, because this is important as fuck. I really am impressed by the fact that these guys were able to create meaningful buildup and climax without anything feeling like a forced crescendo. Everything feels like a natural evolution of the song, rather than trying to just pile on layers of noise until it breaks upon itself. That’s a mark of top notch composition skill, well done.
Other than that, there’s not much more to say. Color me very impressed, this is prog AOTY so far and I expect that to stay the same unless something drastic happens. Just goes to show you what a bit of care and subtlety can do to turn a record from pretty good to spectacular.