Wolverine have always been a band to eschew prolificacy in favour of taking their time with their musical output. While drip-feeding your fanbase with sporadically released new music might prove to be a frustrating experience for some, I'm sure the majority of people would be in unanimous agreement that they'd rather have a handful of masterworks than a plethora of self-imitative, stylistically stagnant, albums. And that's precisely what 'Machina Viva' is - yet another masterpiece in the evolution of this most special and distinctive of bands - and finds the Swedes on their new home of the prestigiously regarded progressive label, Sensory/The Laser's Edge.
Taking their time between releases has proven to be, time and again, the right move, with only positive results. A corollary of the lengthy gaps between Wolverine albums is that it's allowed them the time and space to develop and hone their compositional talents and progress their aesthetic into fresh and previously unexplored territory. And 'Machina Viva' is precisely that... compositions and arrangements embody and encompass the temporal and spatial breadth of their "no-rush" approach. In other words, they've also allowed time and space in their songs for ideas to develop, breathe and flourish. Their sonic canvas is an expansive one, and the palette from which they draw is varied in colour, tone, style and emotion. You want comparisons to other bands? Forget it. This is Wolverine; there are no comparisons.
Apart from a couple of tracks around the four and five minute marks, the generally longer song lengths on 'Machina Viva' make it immediately apparent that they've given themselves the time, but also space for ideas to build in a slow burning manner, sometimes erupting into emotionally explosive, intense crescendos and bursts of purposeful, heavy passages. But songs don't merely rely on heavy, distorted guitars for their moments of heaviness; there are as many intensities to be heard in the emotional effusion that characterises the entire album, both instrumentally and vocally. Yet again, frontman Stefan Zell excels himself here, with a career-best performance. Just take the ostensible minimalism of 'Pile of Ash' as a prime example - his vocals on this track are tear-jerkingly transcendent, particularly when he elevates his voice into some falsetto tones. There's nothing minimalist about that level of affective profundity. In fact, all members are at the top of their game here, including new boy Jonas Jonsson, who replaced longtime guitarist Mikael Zell sometime between the previous album, 'Communication Lost', and this new one.
Songs are loaded with strong melodies throughout, yet they're subtly and seamlessly interwoven into Wolverine's compositional tapestry, so even the hooks themselves become part of the album's slow-burning affections. It's the sonic equivalent of a slow-burning narrative from a Lars von Trier movie, and the cast play their roles to perfection here, with refined yet heartfelt performances; the perfect balance between consummate instrumental mastery and emotional expression. But that's always been the essence of Wolverine's music. There's no rush to bombard your senses with any kind of quick-hit immediacy, yet the emotional connection I find myself making with 'Machina Viva' is both an immediate and immersive one. And, over time, with each repeated listen, the subtleties become more pronounced: melodies transform into persistent earworms; echoes of songs' passages linger long after the music stops, be it through the hauntingly melancholic refrains of tracks like 'Nemesis' and 'Sheds', or the epically inclined grandeur of the sublimely layered 'The Bedlam Overture'; and traces of the album's emotional impact remain and re-emerge, like the after affects from a dose of, to borrow from a Richard Curtis script, "love heroin". 'Machina Viva' is addictive. Its emotional sincerity, passionate core and enduring appeal incessantly lure you back for more... and more... and more.
With 'Machina Viva', Wolverine have attained perfection once again, on an album that I cannot fault in any small way. Full marks must also be awarded for the production, mix and mastering, as everything sounds fantastic. 'Machina Viva'... Viva Wolverine! Will we have to wait another five years? If they continue to produce works of such sublimely conceived and reified beauty, then it will most certainly be worth the wait.
Review by Mark Holmes
8th July 2016
1) The Bedlam Overture
3) Pile of Ash
4) Our Last Goodbye
6) When the Night Comes
9) Pile of Ash (Bonus)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...over time, with each repeated listen, the subtleties become more pronounced: melodies transform into persistent earworms; echoes of songs' passages linger long after the music stops..."