Machinae Supremacy

Phantom Shadow

Written by: BW on 21/09/2014 21:29:01

The SID chip is going to be either one of two things to you. It will either be remembered fondly as the audio function that the classic Commodore 64 computer had and for helping to create, at that time, memorable melodies that outshone anything else that was available. To everyone else it will simply be…. “The What?” Whichever way you look at it though the SID Chip was a legacy for the time and some have kept the baton held and passed it on, allowing people of this generation to enjoy the dulcet tones of it. Swedish Metal band Machinae Supremacy have been doing this since 2000, with their funky mix of 8-bit plinky plonkage and adding a metal band to it, releasing the result as a standalone album or occasionally doing game soundtracks themselves. Their newest release, “Phantom Shadow” shows this in abundance by both showcasing the abilities they have as a band, as well as some moments where the blending of old and new seems to work so very well.

When you listen to this album when not knowing what to expect it will feel completely alien at first, as you would normally just think to yourself that metal bands should only have the basic key food types, but the SID chip is a very unique element. It isn’t to say that it appears in all of their songs on the album. To be honest a fair percentage of this is a bit more Hollywood and major scale epic inducing, rather than strapping some riffs together and hoping for some neck straining from the resultant headbang. These are a mixture of almost story induced interludes or actual slow pieces of music, which really strip away the standard fare and replace it with some piano and synth string work (sometimes even adding a narrative when felt required). Tracks such as “Captured” and “Europa” go some way to trying to almost producing a storyboard of this album in between all of the usual stuff we have become accustomed with. “Mortal Wound” really does go some way to being the prime example of the more sombre side of Machinae Supremacy’s style in this orchestral way.

Moving away from that side to the more traditional style we see a mix of some songs this time that blend the SID in very well and others that don’t really seem to strike that balance right. It can be that the composition doesn’t sound right and becomes a bit warbled or that things just don’t work and should be kept out. The best example of how to get it right is “The Villain of the Story” which has an almost early Metallica guitar intro which then booms into a fast paced and nicely put together track, hosting a balanced foundation and adding the computer stuff when it can latch on, with a really nice ending just to show that this enhancement can work when done right.

A good example of when it doesn’t seem to fit in is with “Perfect Dark” as from the off the melody just sounds a bit lame and once the main instruments try to come in and help it out you just don’t see any hope of it coming back to being an enjoyable tune. After listening to it a few times I can vouch for that.

The full album when looked at seems just a little disjointed, in that it feels like it is losing its direction slightly. The flow seems to get disrupted by the way things pan out and this also means that some of those hidden gems become a little harder to find because they turn up when you’re not expecting them on this album. “Phantom Battle” is a pretty good bit of music and is built really well, but it seems to be sandwiched between two of those aforementioned ambient pieces, which instead of adding some bite actually seems to take away from the effectiveness.

I think on a personal level you can see where the gaming influences come into play through not just this album, but in the band’s discography. The atmospheric moments would not look out of place in a video game nowadays and even the names of some of the songs lean towards a period of joypads, tapes and cartridges. The main band songs kind of have that 50/50 effect, in that some of them really do work and do so to a very effective manner, but others do leave that flat vibe with you and you desperately want to get yourself that good track to sling you back into it all again.

As much as this may not be an album to set the world on fire, I do feel that people should listen to not just “Phantom World” but to a lot of their earlier stuff, as it certainly opens the eyes of what can actually be done when you try to rock the boat a little. There are some properly decent tunes in here, but the other parts hit the average part of the heart, with one or two that don’t raise the pulse. If you want to see what they CAN achieve when getting it consistent then you should listen to either “A View From the End of the World” or “Overworld” as these are more or less the main band without the frills. The blending of old and new works well on them too and can be heard just underneath the band, resulting in an enhancement instead of a distraction.

There’s no denying the way Machinae Supremacy have kept going for a nearly a decade and a half whilst still staying as an underground band is impressive and I’d love to see more people hear about them and maybe get to like them. This album is not their best and I feel it lets them down a little, but based on some of their back catalogue, you would have to call it more of a loading error than a complete crash. Once they reset the counter to zero and press play on tape again I think we’ll see something good.


Download: The Villain of This Story, Phantom Battle, Throne of Games, Captured (Sara's Theme)
For The Fans Of: Blood Stain Child, Turmion Katilot, Scar Symmetry

Release date 25.08.2014
Spinefarm Records + Relapse

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