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Wolverine – Machina Viva Review

Released By: Sensory Records

Release Date: July 8, 2016

Genre: Progressive Rock/Metal

Links: http://www.wolverine-overdose.com/

https://www.facebook.com/wolverinetheband

 

Line Up:

Stefan Zell – Vocals

Jonas Jonsson – Guitars

Thomas Jansson – Bass

Per Henriksson – Keyboards

Marcus Losbjer – Drums

 

Tracklist:

1. The Bedlam Overture

2. Machina

3. Pile of Ash

4. Our Last Goodbye

5. Pledge

6. When the Night Comes

7. Nemesis

8. Sheds

9. Pile of Ash (Bonus)

 

One of my favorite prog albums of the decade was the 2011 release Communication Lost, by Swedish band Wolverine. The group started out as a death metal band in their early years, before quickly switching to a much more melodic sound, and while their full length debut The Window Purpose did feature death growls, the turn to a softer, more progressive sound was already noticeable. By the time Communication Lost came, the band was in full out prog mode, leaning more towards a rock sound than metal, with a large focus on atmosphere and emotional vocals and lyrics, making for one of the most powerful albums I’ve heard from anyone in the genre. Now with their fifth full length release, Machina Viva, Wolverine are back and their sound has evolved even further, incorporating some electronic elements while continuing to use minimalism to their advantage, resulting in another outstanding album.

Unlike many prog bands, Wolverine’s music is not about being flashy, not in the least. Don’t get me wrong, though: Their musicianship is certainly great, with each member being given space to showcase their talents, but the band frequently demonstrates the ability to tone it down and use a minimal amount of sounds, with more of a focus on strong melodies and ambiance. For example, a couple tracks don’t require most of the band to do much of anything at all, and they use this minimalism to their advantage, allowing the atmosphere and emotional vocals to take over. At times the music feels like a lighter, more textured take on the later Katatonia sound, though the best comparison I can make would be if Anubis Gate were to do a whole album focused on their softer side, with none of the power metal elements. Everything here feels very well thought out, with the band using only the sounds they think will work best for each section, instead of throwing in everything they possibly can and seeing how it works out, like some prog bands can be known to do.

A very important part of their sound is obviously vocalist Stefan Zell. As always, he has a very smooth and calm delivery, and he really excels at being emotive while still allowing the melodies to fully shine through. At times on this album he sings a bit lower than normal, which fits well with the overall darker tone, and there are times where his voice reminds me a bit of Mikael Åkerfeldt though he clearly has more range at this point. Of all the elements on this album, Stefan’s vocals may be the most important, and on every track he does an outstanding job.

The album begins strong with the epic 15 minute opener “The Bedlam Overture”. This track is a perfect example of what to expect from Wolverine: It starts out very calm, with the keyboards dominating throughout the first few minutes, before the vocals eventually kick in, and the track stays calm for a while before the guitars hit and it becomes a bit heavier, though by no means aggressive. It’s a very introspective track, more focused on melodies than anything else, and even the extended solo sections are very nice and melodic in nature, and not at all flashy.

Next up is “Machina”, a more experimental track. It has a very electronic feel to it, with how the keyboards sound, and Stefan’s vocals give the song a feeling of accessibility. Guitars do eventually kick in, but it’s quite the soft and melodic track overall. Things only calm down further with “Pile of Ash”, one of the more simple tracks on the album. This one consists entirely of very soft guitars and Stefan’s vocals, with the latter being especially dominant and given space to shine. Towards the end they add in sustained guitar notes in the background, which makes for a very cool effect. All instruments return on “Our Long Goodbye”, another very melodic and vocal driven track, full of hooks and great vocal melodies, making for one of the more instantly satisfying tracks on the album.

The metal side of the band comes through a bit more on “Pledge”, the heaviest track on the album. It has the most sustained riffs on the album, and some excellent guitar work overall, though it’s still largely focused on atmosphere and emotion, once again enhanced by the excellent vocals. Next is “When the Night Comes”, a fairly light track for the most part, driven by perhaps the best and most exciting chorus of the album, as well as a great solo section. Speaking of which, the best guitar solo of the album is on “Nemesis”, a track that starts off feeling like a piano ballad, before picking up steam and getting a bit heavier along the way. Lastly, we have “Sheds”, a very nice ballad wish features only Stefan’s vocals and some very ambient synth work in the background. As a bonus track, the band included a second version of “Pile of Ash”, which is basically an orchestral version of the track, though the vocals are still included.

I was blown away by Wolverine the first time I heard Communication Lost, and while nothing else they do may ever hit me as hard as that album did, Machina Viva is a nice evolution of their sound, featuring occasional experimental sections, as well a continued focus on atmosphere and emotion. Fans of melodic prog with huge vocal melodies and a focus on minimalism and intelligent song compositions over flashiness are highly recommended to check it out.

 

Written by: Travis Green

Ratings: Travis   9/10

 

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