Album Title: Machina Viva
Label: The Laser’s Edge
Date of Release: 8 July 2016
There were hushed rumours soon after the release of the Swedes’ fourth release, the sensationally powerful and emotional ‘Communication Lost’ that there might not be another album from Wolverine. It was a rumour that I prayed would not become reality but, as the years rolled on accompanied by near silence from the band, I began to fear the worst. However, in 2016, my most fervent of hopes have materialised and with them, a new album has emerged from the masters of dark, melancholic progressive music.
The album, Wolverine’s fifth, goes by the name of ‘Machina Viva’ and, if you’d be so kind, I’d like to here and now go on record and say something directly to Messrs Henriksson (keyboards), Jansson (bass), Losbjer (drums), Jonsson (guitars) and Zell (vocals): thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
You see, for me and many others I’m sure, a world without such beautiful, fragile, challenging and emotional music is unimaginable.
In a strange way, it seems fitting that I’m writing this review now, around the birthday of my late brother. I’m not in the best of emotional states this time each year, but it is albums like this that fit my melancholia perfectly but that also give me the strength to carry on. Forget for just a moment all of the intricacies & progressive nuances that litter Wolverine’s music, there are few artists out there that have the unnerving ability to break hearts with just one note. And Wolverine do it with such style that it’s impossible not to get swept up entirely in the emotion of it all.
Add to this a level of lyricism that delves deep into the shadows of the human psyche to lay bare all the sorrows, regrets and bleak misery to which we, as humans, are susceptible and all of a sudden, you’re confronted with a body of work that is as draining and intense as it is bleak and stunningly beautiful.
As I listen, the word ‘claustrophobic’ frequently pops into my head but in a positive way, as there’s almost no let-up in the intensity of the music, the atmospheres and the extremely powerful and thought-provoking lyrics. In fact, listening to Wolverine is more than just listening to music; it is an all-encompassing experience, at its most fulfilling if you give yourself entirely over to it. And yet, somehow, the music also offers a cathartic and highly rewarding journey too.
In keeping with Wolverine’s bold and daring approach, ‘Machine Viva’ opens with the longest and arguably the most challenging composition entitled ‘The Bedlam Overture’. With a duration of over 14 minutes, it is a brave move but it pays off handsomely. It is a truly epic piece of music that ebbs and flows majestically, from quiet and contemplative to all-out power and seemingly everything in between. Featuring a guest guitar solo from former member Per Broddesson, it is also a real slow-burner that takes time to work its magic but given repeated listens, it blossoms into something genuinely very special.
‘Machina’ by contrast, is a lot shorter and is driven by an urgent beat led by the great drumming of Marcus Losbjer that rarely lets up throughout the song. The melodies build with grace and elegance and eventually, a key change allows the track to explode with real force before an abrupt conclusion that sees the song just die, as if falling from a cliff into the silent darkness below.
The sounds of a lone, lightly distorted guitar join forces with vocalist Stefan Zell to deliver a sublime piece of music in the form of ‘Pile Of Ash’. The guitar work from Jonsson is understated but beautifully executed, full of expression and poignancy. Zell’s vocals are thoroughly captivating; exhibiting a vulnerability that sends shivers down my spine. It is almost as if Zell is on the verge of tears in places, such is the passion with which he delivers the desperately sad lyrics. And then, to top things off, simple heavier guitar notes fade in and out brilliantly to increase the drama within the song.
‘Our Last Goodbye’ begins with an ominous synth texture courtesy of Henriksson, one that reminds me of an oppressive cinematic experience. It is quickly joined by a doleful French horn that fits the mood perfectly despite my normal aversion to brass of any kind. The beat that enters the fray is clever, subtle and understated yet it drives the track along at a nice pace. The melodies are gorgeous, and there are no words to express how exquisite the occasional lead guitar melodies are. The chorus is graceful and elegant but as memorable as it is, it is the lyrics that catch my ear as the music heightens its intensity. Apparently inspired by the divorce of Zell from the mother of his children, it is striking, but no less meaningful whatever may be the source of our own personal travails.
“Tonight I’ll be there by my window
Watching the people below
So many stories of sorrow
So many endings to know
How come that I feel so alone,
and that all that I see is my pain”
Talk about shivers, chills and goosebumps. I can just imagine the scene as I listen and can easily relate to similar times in my life where I’ve done the same and had very similar thoughts. What a sensational piece of music.
‘Pledge’ ups the ante a little in terms of heaviness and the opening riff is prog metal nectar; intelligent and idiosyncratic but engaging nonetheless. The song eventually opens up into a great highly charged chorus where Zell almost sounds angry. What Wolverine do so well is manage to mix things up within the compositions and so here, the abrasiveness is quickly but smoothly interspersed with much more subtly-nuanced music where multi-layered textures inject moments of calm reflection and plenty more in terms of atmosphere.
‘When The Night Comes’ is arguably the most immediate and vaguely up-beat song on the album. It begins with a vibrant acoustic guitar before building surreptitiously into quite a heavy composition. I love the bass of Jansson on this track as well as the chorus which is hook-laden with a punishingly powerful guitar and drum combo for emphasis. There are another couple of gorgeous lead guitar solos, the second of which is a monster and the addition of string instruments adds real depth and sophistication to proceedings, not to mention a poignancy that’s hard to express.
Next up is ‘Nemesis’ which begins with a piano melody and more ubiquitous passionate vocals. The bass again is superb, afforded a clarity within the mix which is so strong that it is worthy of mention in its own right. The track is arguably one of the most overtly progressive, flirting with a myriad of different and intriguing sounds, time signatures and textures throughout, including an imposing keyboard solo and more killer lead guitar work. And yet it is held together by a really wonderful melody that only rears its head a couple of times but is all the more impactful as a result.
And then, aside from a re-worked version of ‘Pile Of Ash’ with a cello in place of the guitar, the album closes with ‘Sheds’. Oh. My. Goodness. Almost exclusively a vocal and keyboard track with flashes of other instrumentation at times within it, it actually physically makes me break down and cry. The choral vocal effects and deep, rich organ-like synth tones simply add more power and emotion to Zell’s already spellbindingly melancholic delivery. And when the piano and a subtly distorted guitar offer their melodies accompanied by a heartbeat like beat, that’s it. I’m done. Overcome with emotion, I generally sit, gazing into space with tears flowing down my cheeks.
There’s not a lot more I can say to be honest, so I won’t. I’ll just press play again and revel in some properly intelligent and intoxicating music that despite its heart-breaking overtones is a sheer magical delight from start to finish.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld