It should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of MACHINAE SUPREMACY. I am one of those new-age fans who joined the party around the time of “A View from the End of the World” (2010), and to this day, I still don’t think MASU writes “bad” songs, so to speak. Back in 2014, two of my favorite bands, the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT and MACHINAE SUPREMACY, released two great albums – “Z2“ versus “Phantom Shadow,” and while when I wrote the 2014 album awards post, I gave album of the year to Dev and his gang, though in hindsight I shouldn’t have. 2016 promised to face these two bands off once more, and while I enjoyed “Transcendence“ from DTP, it didn’t rock my world quite in the way I had hoped. As such, I had a bit of super-powered excitement during my long anticipation for “Phantom Shadow“‘s followup, wondering if they would steal my heart yet again.
Of note, this album was originally going to be the direct sequel to “Phantom Shadow,” however, while much/most/all of the story is sequential to PS, I chose not to ask about the story beforehand. I hoped to have some base opinions on this album first, form some theories of my own, and then, maybe a year from now, I’ll do another special feature based on this album’s story.
1. “My Dragons Will Decimate”
“Firelight for as far as heaven is wide…”
Dragons? Decimation? You’ve already got my attention. The album gets off to an extremely strong start with what I refer to as the “boss monster” song, as it reminds me of some sort of 8-bit dungeon crawler boss fight with it’s nice anticipatory feel and SID style. You know what I mean, the type of music that gets you all excited and/or nervous before the boss battle – ominous yet energetic. Notably, right off the bat, Robert Stjärnström‘s vocals take a very interesting turn. I know not everyone is sold on his voice, though I most certainly am, and it’s quite evident that he’s been toying with some new sounds and styles to a wonderful effect. I think this song is a pretty rousing success and the album is off to a great start!
2. “Into the Night World”
“I will decide and shed forever / My frozen image here on earth / I’m being pulled into the night world / Enter a phantom universe…”
There is something so cool in this song’s riff – it sounds really sci-fi without being remotely sci-fi in a way. This is already probably but not definitely my favorite track on the album. “Into the Night World” took a couple of spins to convince me, but convince me it surely did! It starts out with some sort of synth/SID blend that sounded weird on first listen but now I absolutely love. This is the obvious live track on the album, with a lot of the great MASU energy that I love and an awesome singalong chorus. “The fire’s fading, I am wooooaaaaah!” is so fantastic and I want to dance around the house with my fist in the air during the chorus. The C-part also adds a bit of emotion as well; “I know this ink on my skin forms a link from my sins to my soul…” is my favorite line on the album (and honestly, my favorite line from any song this year). I suspect that if you liked “Perfect Dark,” this is going to be another favorite.
“Once our common cause, I would give my all / The sun could not outshine me / It wasn’t something new, just something real and true…”
I’ll never get used to spelling this song’s name. This album is starting to feel a tad like “MASU in space” at this point (both lyrically and thematically), and while I’m normally not a big fan of space themes, this is really working for them. There is a really strange and delightful harmonization between Ingeborg Ekeland (whom you may recall from “Phantom Shadow”) and Stjärnström; meanwhile, the phantom in my house pointed out that this song has more of an Amiga vibe than Commodore 64. It’s also quite interesting that there isn’t any guitar at all in the verses – I’d dub this one of the more experimental songs on the album, but the gaming sounds are nevertheless fantastic in this one. This one took a little longer to grow on me than the first two, but now I consider it perhaps the objective best song on the album, and I can very clearly envision a lot of heartfelt singing along with fists in the air during live shows, with Tomi Luoma rocking his solo in proper metal-guy form. In fact, I would love to see a live-shot music video to this song. Also, mad props for the ambition-contrition-mission rhyme – I am a sucker for a creative rhyme, especially in triple!
4. “Remember Me”
“I know it isn’t easy / But nothing worthwhile ever is…”
Forgive my lack of familiarity with the older MASU material, but have these guys ever done a straight-up ballad before? “Flagcarrier” and “Europa” both dance on the ballad/not-ballad line, and “One Day in the Universe” might have been if it had been slowed down a bit. This song has a beautiful piano line that is bound to tug at the heartstrings, particularly combined with the powerful lyrics about parting ways with a loved one. You could take this song in so many ways, and no matter which way I look at it, I confess that every listen results in me being anywhere on the scale from choked up to having full tears in my eyes. Furthermore, the song almost starts to fade out near the 3:30 mark, and then switches to an unexpected and epic solo that works surprisingly nicely to build up the emotion to hit a massive climax. Another beautiful dynamic is toward the end when Stjärnström changes the key to go up instead of down and nearly breaks me every time. And, one of my favorite things is that every chorus fades out after “remember,” but when the line is sung the last time, he finally sings “remember… me.” Perfect! Let’s not forget the incredible harmonizing with Ekeland yet again either. This could be the most objectively beautiful song they’ve written yet, so prepare to have all the feels.
5. Space Boat
“I would totally fight for you / But not for this fucking planet…”
A love song called “Space Boat”? Why yes, I do think this is the greatest idea ever. The space theme has returned! Okay, this song might divide some people because it is cheesy as hell, but in a way that I find very enjoyable. This isn’t a slow romantic ballad, this is a fun, upbeat song about two people in love and their… spaceship? Musically the song doesn’t let up, with the right kind of groove to be cheeky enough to work – it’s not like they slacked off musically even if it is the least serious song on the album. I like the feel in the bridge between the first chorus and the second verse as well – a nice little bit of composition there. This song has the power to be a goofy favorite if you don’t take its lyrics too seriously. And let’s be honest, right after the emotionally heavy and heartbreaking “Remember Me,” you need something a little bit silly to lighten the mood.
6. “Stars Had to Die So that You Could Live”
“How many women killed / Because we feared they would rock the boat?”
We’ve hit controversy! This song has the foundation of a great song in it, but of all the songs on this album, this is the one that feels like it needs a little more work. It’s taken me a rather long time to figure out why I can’t quite get on board with this song, because if you break it into its individual parts, I don’t find any of them offensive. Ultimately, I think the song sounds either somehow incomplete or unpolished. The funky guitar transitions between parts stand out a bit awkwardly, though I still can’t quite say why that is. Maybe they feel like a different style than the verses/chorus. Well, you can help me make up my mind about it. I compare this to “Throne of Games” on “Phantom Shadow,” as it’s the one song that doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the album.
With that out of the way, it’s not like the song doesn’t have good parts. As I said, I like many of the segments individually, such as the ambient “who we are” part before the solo starts, and I can’t complain about the solo either. As well, on the positive side, this song feels like it has a feminist message (which I always approve of). However, unlike almost every other song on this album, it only has two verses (the first of which is only two lines) and no C-part. So as much as I like the lyrics in this song, there is nothing more after the second rather thought-provoking verse, leaving the song feeling a bit lyrically incomplete.
7. “Beast Engine”
“I touch the fire and I soar / Embrace your burning heart, be something more…”
“Beast Engine” is a very intriguing song, as there is a lot going on, feeling a little more serious than many of the others. Lyrically, I get a strong hint of the Dark Souls or Bloodborne series, though knowing Robert Stjärnström, that’s not the only take you could have on this song. There’s another good marching beat that comes and goes throughout, with just a hint of ’90s-era IRON MAIDEN chugging guitar riffing – unexpected, but highly welcome! I love the guitar part during the “your souls will fuel the engine” bit, and the solos are pretty classic metal as well, as performed by Jonas Rörling. Perhaps my favorite line from this one is: “What if hell isn’t future but part of our past? / Some always seek to resurrect old ways / Travel back in haste, have the world relive its darkest days…” Again, rather thought-provoking, no?
8. “Dream Sequence”
“I know that you’ll find me if I believe / If… If I keep breathing / I fear my time is here so would you please / Please hurry, I need you…”
Toss another log on the fire of enjoyment, my friends, because this is a good one! “Dream Sequence” is one of the strangest and perhaps most experimental songs in recent MASU years and I very much appreciate the effort because they’ve done well with it. I adore the guitarwork in the bridge, and even more so in the chorus. As well, there is urgency and passion in the vocals to this song, particularly in the chorus, which is what draws me the most to this song. Ekeland also appears from time to time in the background, adding just a hint of something extra to push this over the top. The desperation in this track is wonderful and it tugs on my heart almost as badly as “Remember Me” does, causing me to get choked up from time to time while listening. Lyrically, I couldn’t say what this is about, but there is certainly a story there and I’d love to hear some theories on this one.
9. “SID Metal Legacy”
This is the one familiar song on this album, having been released back in June 2015, give or take. This isn’t the same version as in the video though, as I’m quite sure this has been updated! Of course the SID is delightful, but the riff is also fun and the bass is solid yet again. You’ll certainly have an idea of what you’re in for if you already know the original, however, I have to say that while the song is a bit repetitive, it’s catchy as hell and in the context of album, it’s in the perfect place – “Dream Sequence” is passionate and emotional and “Last March of the Undead” is the epic closer, so this sort of simple SID energy is exactly what was needed at track 9. Well played, MaSu!
10. “Last March of the Undead”
“Will you pretend with me / what we once were, we will return / sky, earth, and in between / come watch with me as our world burns…”
The piano intro immediately informs us that the album is coming to a close – how do you make a song feel like “the end” so nicely, I wonder? Does this mean that this series of songs has come to an end as well? The piano is strong in this one and soon gets powered up by the guitars and bass. This dies out when the vocals start though, replaced by some long-note SID before going off into a powerful bridge and an equally powerful chorus, the latter of which has some of the nicest SID riffs on the album. Lyrically, this one seems to have a more concrete story than some of the more ambiguous “March of the Undead” songs from the past (such as “Remnant”), with a first-person narrator. The “come watch with me as our world burns” line was leaked by the band in advance, and for good reason, because it’s a great line and was pretty world-context appropriate at the time. Can I throw a proper shout-out to the rhythm section here at this point too? Bassist Andreas Gerdin has been rock solid and drummer Nicky Karvonen has been doing a phenomenal job throughout the album – this song is a good demonstration as such. This song makes the album feel quite full-circle, as in the beginning verse it uses that deep note from the first track… you know, that one that makes it sound like an 8-bit boss battle. As well, the nice piano parts in this song make me wish again that these guys had a live keyboardist so they wouldn’t need backing tracks.
My trusted mostly-Swedish friends, you have lived up to your SID legacy (sorry, not sorry) once again! I had hoped to break down and credit these songs a bit more individually, but it turns out that these guys write in such a collaborative way that it became quite an effort and I gave up. So what could I possibly say about this album as a whole? It is vocally far more developed than anything in the past, and musically more experimental than at least their last three albums. The guitar and drumming in particular are top-notch. The SID elements, while not present in every song, are used diversely in excellent taste, and more than anything else, the songs have great lyrics and good musical hooks. The production is excellent to my untrained ear. While the album trips and stumbles a bit over the one song, it still manages to be one of the best collections of music from this year and I heartily recommend it to fans and non-fans alike.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- My Dragons Will Decimate
- Into the Night World
- Remember Me
- Space Boat
- Stars Had to Die So that You Could Live
- Beast Engine
- Dream Sequence
- Sid Legacy
- Last March of the Undead
Robert Stjärnström – vocals
Jonas Rörling – guitars
Tomi Luoma – guitars
Andreas Gerdin – bass
Nicky Karvonen – drums
Interview Phantom Elite – “It’s always good to share that feeling that none of us is alone in hard times”