For one reason or another this review of Maschine’s second studio album has taken a while to come to fruition and in hindsight I’m glad. As with their debut I initially liked what I heard on Naturalis, but I can’t say it truly grabbed me, however having had the benefit of listening to the album for a much longer period before committing to a review has certainly worked, and safe to say the band have got the balance just about right here.
So before moving on to Naturalis, and as the band’s debut album pre-dates any reviewing on TPA, perhaps mention of Rubidium, their bold, if not wholly satisfying opening statement. Technically there was little to fault with the album, however it just didn’t quite resonate with me, perhaps just a little heavy for my tastes. Still there were some stunning moments and certainly whenever Cubixstro pops up on the iDevice it invariably brings a nod of approval. Worth noting that my appreciation and enjoyment for Rubidium has increased enormously since revisiting the music during the reviewing process of Naturalis.
Moving forward three years and Natuarlis immediately comes across as a more assured album, presumably brought about by the intervening gigging and a more permanent line-up which now includes drummer James Stewart and Marie-Eve de Gaultier on keyboards, flute and vocals.
As with their debut, the band have made the bold move to open with a lengthy track and, at just shy of twelve minutes, Resistance sets out the stall here on Naturalis. The combination of atmospherics and electronica are mixed with a crunching drive and distinctly psychedelic tinge to the vocals. You’re almost four minutes in before the mood changes, still distinctly atmospheric, but with more space, which Dan Mash shuffles and grooves to, whilst Luke Machin sends across some incendiary guitar. Marie-Eve de Gaultier adds some delicate and tasteful flute, in what is to become another shift in direction, however, and before this review becomes a somewhat tiresome bar by bar analysis of the music let’s just say that Resistance charts several courses across its length.
Where there has been criticism of Natuarlis it seems to revolve around Luke Machin’s vocals, but in general they worked for me as he displays a warm vocal delivery, musically perhaps just lacking the great hookline(s). However, the blend between Machin and de Gaultier works particularly successfully across the album and is well evidenced during the latter part of the respiteful Make Believe – a track that features some delightful, melodic guitar to boot…
Naturalis is not a concept album, although it does have a common theme which Luke comments on: “This is basically about natural events. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and working on for some time. My interest really began with the Japanese tsunami in 2011. It had such a far-reaching effect on so many people. Once I had the idea for the album fixed in my head, the whole thing just snowballed. But what I didn’t want this to be was a record about natural disasters. That can be such a dark subject. What I wanted to emphasise was that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope for mankind. And that’s the vibe I wanted to come through.”
Luke Machin is obviously the driving force across the album, however we shouldn’t overlook the contribution made by guitarist Elliott Fuller who, judging from the footage below recorded at 2015’s 2Days Prog festival in Veruno, Italy, is an extremely accomplished player.
Now I’m sure Luke could have done all the guitar parts himself, but the album’s most concise track, Night And Day, illustrates the empathy of the two players. Noteworthy that for an album with two gifted guitarists this could well have become a tiresome shred-fest, but the guitar, although ever present, forms part of the picture rather the whole.
I made comment of the heaviness of Rubidium, so worthy of mention is that Natuarlis has a somewhat broader palette and as we move from the ballady Make Believe we have the driving, jazzy and funky Hidden In Plain Sight. Whereas Night And Day showcased the two guitarists, the up-beat, pop infused, Hidden In Plain Sight is underpinned by the rather tasty rhythm section, culminating in the engaging section that brings the track to a close. This great vibe continues through the stunning Eyes Pt 2.
I suppose much of the overall appeal of Natuarlis boils down to where you come from musically. I can well imagine that the two tracks that bookend the album will appeal more to those who enjoy music towards the heavier end of the spectrum. Megacyma is certainly rooted within those boundaries and as with Resistance the somewhat rippling atmospheric opening belies what lies ahead. Across its almost 12-minute length are several sections of intricate, incisive and technically mindboggling riffing with nifty solo sections neatly encapsulated in a rich song structure.
And finally, as with their debut, they have added two bonus tracks. The live tracks here, both taken from the Rubidium album, were recorded during the above mentioned 2Days Prog festival.
01. Resistance (11:52)
02. Night And Day (5:08)
03. Make Believe (7:10)
04. Hidden In Plain Sight (7:01)
05. A New Reality (8:45)
06. Megacyma (11:46)
~ Bonus tracks
07. Eyes Pt. 2 (8:55)
08. Rubidium (8:47)
Total Time – 69:24
Luke Machin – Guitar & Vocals
Dan Mash – Bass & Vocals
Elliott Fuller – Guitar
James Stewart – Drums
Marie-Eve de Gaultier – Flute, Keyboards & Vocals
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Year of Release: 2016