British progressive rock/metal band Maschine is a new name to me, although they’ve got one record, Rubidium (2013), under their belts already. Their new release, Naturalis, is a concept album about natural events and disasters, such as tsunamis, though there’s hope in the lyrics as well. There are only 6 songs, but the total running time is 52 minutes, so it’s needless to say that there are some long pieces on the record.
What strikes me is how diverse the music on Naturalis is: while a lot of modern prog bands are content with treading in the footsteps of a certain classic band – whether it’s Genesis, Dream Theater, or Tool – Maschine have a wide array of influences and you can’t call them a copycat of any specific group. The 12-minute opener, “Resistance”, begins with mysterious ambient synths and is rather heavy and dark, complete with Opeth-y dissonance and tremolo picking. However, there’s a break in the middle with a lighter feel, mellotron, and acoustic guitars, before it’s time for more metal riffing and a wild guitar solo. The other 12-minute epic, “Megacyma”, is the last song and likewise technical and heavy, but calms down at the very end, closing the album on a somewhat positive note. On the mellow side you have the lush and funky “Hidden in Plain Sight” and the relaxed and jazzy “A New Reality.” The lead single “Night and Day” and “Make Believe” are somewhere between these two extremes, containing moments of intensity, but never getting quite as dark as the bookending tracks.
Despite the conceptual approach, Naturalis is an instrumentally driven record, though there are vocals on every song. Guitarist and songwriter Luke Machin sings with a nice British accent and his voice has got a pleasant tone. His range may be a touch limited, but keyboardist Marie-Eve de Gaultier complements him well and her ethereal vocals in the intro of “Make Believe” are gorgeous. Hopefully we’ll hear more of her on the next album! The interplay between male and female voices brings to mind Anathema and Pure Reason Revolution, though the music itself is different from those groups. The musicians clearly know how to play, but there’s an effortless and natural feel in the playing. The soloing and technicality come in small doses and always on the terms of the song, which is something that is often missing on young bands’ releases. The production, handled by Machin in his home studio, is fairly good and dynamic by today’s standards. It’s especially refreshing that the guitars aren’t overly distorted or in a low tuning even on the heavier tracks, though the music has a bit of a metallic edge at times.
Maschine know when to chill out and when to hit the gas. The songs flow naturally and never get tedious at any point, and the transitions are well thought out. Naturalis is a balanced and intriguing album with both modern and vintage sounds that I wholeheartedly recommend to any self-respecting prog fan out there. This band is far from generic, and I’m sure we’ll hear more greatness from them in the future.
Rating: 9/10, 4½ stars
2. Night and Day
3. Make Believe
4. Hidden in Plain Sight
5. A New Reality