Thursday, 5 September 2013

Maschine's 'Rubidium' - Album Review

The Cambridge Rock Festival has always given me plenty of opportunities to discover new up and coming bands, and in 2012 one of those bands was Maschine. Having formed at the Brighton Institue of Modern Music in 2008, the band are the primary outlet for songwriter Luke Machin's compositions and 2013 sees the release of their debut album Rubidium. Machin and bassist Daniel Mashal have previously recorded and toured with established progressive rockers The Tangent but decided to go at it alone, and with the help of The Tangent mastermind Andy Tillison, landed a record deal with InsideOut Music. Joining Machin and Mashal we have keyboardist Georgia Lewis, guitarist Elliott Fuller and drummer Douglas Hamer (who has since left the band to be replaced by James Stewart). Rubidium is the fruits of their collective hard work and sits firmly in the progressive metal genre where comparisons can be drawn to rising stars Haken. It is no means a perfect album, but it showcases some huge talent and is an indication that Maschine might be a band to contend with in the future. It is very clearly a debut album, and sometimes tries a little too hard to be 'progressive', but as a bag of ideas and as a statement of intent from the young musicians it has to be admired. My main overall gripe with the album is Machin's voice. It is quite weak and sometimes gets lost in the mix as it fails to stand up against the technical riffs, thankfully Lewis' harmony vocals help to rectify the situation somewhat and add some clout to that department. Machin's guitar work is anything but weak however and his big riffs and solos are some of the highpoints of the album. Another thing to note, is that while the production on the whole is pretty good, it does seem a little thin in places. I suspect a larger budget (providing the label step up) for the next album would help with that though!

The album gets off to a good start with one of the most memorable tracks on it: The Fallen. A nice chunky riff gets things underway but the verse highlights what I mean about Machin's voice - Lewis' totally dominates him and I would not be surprised if in the future she started handling more of the lead vocals. Despite this, the first real guitar solo is fluid and fast and shows where Machin is at his strongest. He also attempts some harsh vocals, very well in my opinion, but these bursts come very infrequently. There is some good John Petrucci-style riffing throughout the song and a nice extended keyboard solo from Lewis. Dream Theater comparisons are inevitable and almost meaningless now when reviewing progressive metal bands but a couple of moments of instrumentation could have come from that legendary American band. The album's title track comes next and is very Haken like with it's eerie-sounding clean passages and odd vocals. It ramps up though and we are treated to some very speedy guitar/keyboard runs underneath the singing. Infact, this whole track is very clearly Haken-influenced. There is another excellent guitar solo that shows off some nice tricks. Cubixstro follows with a really tidy little intro that is extremely catchy. Machin and Lewis' vocals mix really well here and sound really strong. Overall, this song has quite a funky feel with some excellent bass work from Mashal that stands out despite everything else that is going on. The ending almost has a trance feel to it with some excellent atmospherics, jangly guitars and whispered vocals - all backed up by the fat bass.

Invincible is up next and this is the album's 'ballad'. It opens beautifully with some picked acoustic guitar patterns that eventually become more and more dischordant. Machin's strained vocal delivery actually works really well here and reminds me of things Trent Reznor sometimes does to create an odd feeling. Soon, things turn out very folky with a nice flute line, played by Marie-Eve DeGaultier that recalls something Mostly Autumn might have done in their early days. Lewis holds the song together with some very traditional piano work that is full of warmth and melody, a contrast to the eerie opening of the track. There is also a very traditional less-is-more type guitar solo from Machin too that sounds like something Steve Rothery might play - not a lot of notes, but a lot of feeling - but it is not long before the shredding starts again and both methods work well and add something to the song. The next highlight is the final piece, the two part epic Eyes. Delicate piano work and clean guitar herald it's arrival and the vocal interplay once again works well. The big keyboard riff is full of melody and has the sound of a classic prog synth. Things like this seem to be a nod to their influences and giving parts of the album a retro feel. There are moments here that sound like Opeth too with jarring distorted guitar parts, big bass lines and harsh vocals, but the electronia-influenced keyboards help it from becoming a direct copy of the Swedes' sound. The song's second part reprieses the intro of the first part before going off into a guitar-led piece that is a joy to listen to. This is just pure talent and ability! I would say overall, that the Eyes suite is the best piece of music on the album. It is very typically 'prog' with lots of different parts and technical instrumentation but it still holds together well as a song. It ensures the album ends on a bona fide high and hopefully is an indication as to the band's future direction. Rubidium is a solid album that fans of progressive music will definately enjoy. I think if they can tighten up the songwriting a little, as there is some fat that could be trimmed, and use a more meaty production then their next album could be something very special indeed. In the meantime, the band need to tour this album a lot and really hone their craft on the road as I think doing so will help to address some of the small issues I have with what is otherwise a very good album.

The album was released on 29th July 2013 via InsideOut Music. Below is the band's promotional soundclip of and edited version of The Fallen.

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