With a name like “Wolverine”, you’d expect this progressive metal band to be razor edged or in your face. I first heard them on their previous album “Communication Lost”, and I was immediately surprised at the elegance and subtlety found throughout their sound, though I was not entirely riveted by the album. Somehow, they manage to remain progressive metal while at the same time grasping a gentle approach. Well, this new album “Machina Viva” has been awaited since 2011, and their gentle approach remains, but, this time around, I find that I can’t get enough of this album.
“Machina Viva” does represent a slight shift in focus for the band. The line-up has not changed, save for the new guitarist. The band includes Per Henriksson on keys, Thomas Jansson on bass, Marcus Losbjer on drums, newcomer Jonas Jonsson on guitars, and Stefan Zell on vocals. No one musician seems to rise above the rest here. There is no star in the band that overshadows everyone else. The band instead has a really sublime machination to their sound that works well and doesn’t try to show off very much, which is something I cherish.
The change in focus I mentioned is found mainly in the electronic vibes found throughout the album. Some would probably compare them to Blade Runner synth tapestries, but I would point to the soundtrack for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, not as an influence, but as a similar sound. If you didn’t know, I’m a huge fan of that game and soundtrack. Overall, “Machina Viva” has a sound also similar to the band Cynthesis, though the synth and programming don’t go as far as they take them.
Speaking of Cynthesis, Stefan’s vocals are better than ever, and he sounds ever so much like Erik Rosvold of that band, which is a huge compliment coming from me. Stefan’s vocal lines are huge, crisp, and clear, conveying plenty of emotion and showing admirable control. I actually had to check to make sure Wolverine hadn’t brought Erik on board, and I’m excited to hear another vocalist with this style of voice.
As for the rest of the band, they combine subtle riffing (very, very light at times) and strong acoustic guitars with a solid rhythm section to great effect. Per’s keys weave an additional layer, as does the gorgeous programming, creating a futuristic sound that lends itself to the lyrics and feel of the album. I especially love the subtle riffing from Jonas. He uses it to great effect in bridge building, such as on “Our Last Goodbye”, but he also submits some grand jams and riffs, such as in “Pledge”.
The lyrical content of “Machina Viva” is rather personal and heartfelt. The band digs into the machinations of life, from the sorrows to the triumphs. There is a certain correlation to Riverside’s “Reality Dream Trilogy” that keeps popping up in my mind here, as the personal darkness, the ashy emotions, the tired drone of life, and the same general emotional arc all seem to be vital parts of what makes this album work.
My favorite thing about “Machina Viva” is that it is a great collection of songs. It isn’t a concept album full of interludes or what have you, but instead features one great song after the next, whether they be sad or hopeful. My favorites are the opening epic called “The Bedlam Overture” due to its sprawling, storytelling nature; “Machina” for its electronic DNA; “Our Last Goodbye” for being an incredibly well-sung, catchy song; and “Pledge” for being a determined, grit-your-teeth lyrical motivation.
There is one song that has really stayed with me, though, and that is “Pile of Ash”. It is merely a ballad, mostly without instruments, yet it is sung by Stefan with palpable emotion and a certain sincerity that really grabs ahold of me. This, despite the catchiness of the whole album, is the song that has been running through my head day after day, and Stefan’s immense vocal ability is the reason why.
“Machina Viva”, then, is an album about where the rubber meets the road. It’s about that certain spot where the gears meet together, and about making sure those gears are moving smoothly. It is a soothing album full of emotion highs and lows, but also an elegant sense of musicality and composition. “Machina Viva”, without a doubt, is Wolverine at their best.