I’m always excited when an album completely surprises me, as it doesn’t happen that often anymore. I was a fan of Maschine’s debut album “Rubidium” back in 2013, and I honestly thought they had simply disbanded. Three years isn’t that long, but I hadn’t heard much in that time, either. Now, they are back with their carefully crafted and developed second album “Naturalis”. As I listened to it for the first time, I was immediately shocked at how much I loved it.
Don’t get me wrong: “Rubidium” was a great album, if a bit rough and raw around the edges. It was a bass guitar dream, as I recall, and there was this certain energy to it that instantly grabbed you. “Naturalis” is quite different, however, but in ways that I didn’t expect. I can, however, confirm that Maschine has matured and progressed from their first album to craft a sophomore effort that is head and shoulders above their debut.
There has been a minor change in their line-up since their debut. The band consists of Luke Machin on guitars and vocals, Daniel Mashal on bass and vocals, Marie-Eve de Gaultier on keys and vocals, Elliott Fuller on guitars, and James Stewart on drums. Marie-Eve is the new addition here, replacing Georgia Lewis. The difference is noteworthy, too, since she sings and has a different style of keys altogether. More on that in a bit, though.
Originally, the band played this dense heavy prog with slight accents from other genres. With “Naturalis”, this style is more quantifiable. Maschine is becoming this sublime cross between Anathema and Haken; not to minimize their originality or skill with that statement, but that combination is like a match made in Heaven. In addition, though, the band has this classiness that really is all their own. It’s almost jazzy or bluesy at times, and also pastoral in that distinctly British fashion, and it sets them even further apart from their peers.
This jazziness cannot be exaggerated. The more I listen to this new album, the more I realize that the entire rhythm section from Daniel’s bass and James’ drums is jazz and blues in style and genre. As such, their sound is mixed well into the album, and the bass especially is incredibly good and inventive, using bouncing, improv-style runs that sound great and just feel right. The pastoral style is quite prominent as well, with flutes filling transitional gaps in the music quite pleasantly.
On the first album, the guitar work was so dense that many labelled Maschine as progressive metal. This time around, the band has gone a different route entirely. Sure, Luke and Elliott’s guitars are technical when they need to be, and there are some very dense portions. However, I find that most of the guitar work here is more soulful and solo-oriented. The reason for this has to do with Marie-Eve, I think. The album is very ethereal in sound, evoking Anathema in the climactic melodies and tons of space throughout the album. So, while I hear heavy prog in the guitars and jazz in the rhythm section, I hear heavenly post-rock in the keys.
“Rubidium” did feel more mechanistic and dirty than this. “Naturalis” feels clean, light, and inspired. The album features lots of super cool instrumentals that focus more on this feeling of awe rather than on technical performance. “Make Believe” and “A New Reality” are examples of this and feel exactly the way their names suggest. It’s more dimensional and exists on a higher plane than most prog rock today. It’s also very grounded, though, as the heavenly melodies and spaces are rooted in this throbbing jazzy bass and drums, and accented by edgy classic rock guitar licks and solos. Overall, it’s this strange sort of album that just feels so original on the one hand, but feels like a wonderful tribute to all your favorite music at the same time.
One of the most important components of Maschine’s music are the vocal harmonies between Luke, Daniel, and Marie-Eve. Luke seems to be the lead singer, but that might be a moot point here. Daniel has plenty of time here, and Marie-Eve is actually the lead on some of the songs. I think these vocal harmonies are the main reason that Anathema comes up in my mind, because the two male voices singing in harmony with this giant female voice just sounds so graceful and nostalgic. So, layer upon layer of genres and melodies is what really makes “Naturalis” so special.
My favorite song, without a doubt, is “Make Believe”. Marie-Eve leads this one, and it feels more abstract and ethereal than all the rest. A strong central melody inflected by Marie-Eve, lots of harmonies, and a great instrumental ending really cement it as one of my favorite songs of the year. The opener “Resistance” is my second favorite, and feels more “prog” than the rest, with a great structure and plenty of everything the album has to offer. My other favorites are “Night and Day” with its awesome guitars and “A New Reality” with its exquisite styling.
“Naturalis” only has six new tracks, however. I just listed four of them as my favorites, and the other two are close behind, too. It’s a short album at just over 50 minutes; but, as you may have seen on my page the other day, sometimes a short, wholly inspired album of awesome music is exactly what I need. The album does also include two live tracks from the first album. What I find really interesting is the contrast between the two different styles from their two albums. The live tracks, by the way, are intense and incredibly well performed. I find myself enjoying them more than the original records.
So, Maschine has surprised me by taking a left turn into a style of music that relies more on melody and awe than upon technical fireworks or driving riffs. “Naturalis” features layers of soaring joy, spatial grace, and exquisite melody to the effect that this album just makes me feel great and, well, happy. I’m so impressed with the progress the band has made and the direction they’ve taken. They are definitely a force to be reckoned with in the prog community.
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