Machinae Supremacy – Phantom Shadow
Machinae Supremacy – Phantom Shadow (2014)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
Despite my thorough enjoyment of Machinae Supremacy, the band doesn’t get an overabundance of attention in the power metal world. Though the band has garnered a pretty substantial following with the generic label of “video game metal”, it has been producing extremely capable power metal for the last fourteen years. Yet, despite Phantom Shadow being no less than the band’s seventh full-length studio album, I’m continuing to see the inevitable headlines of “Great new video game band!” from reviewers in the metal world. If nothing else, this is proof of the line that the band walks – a line that I wish would be erased.
The Machine’s last four albums have all been masterclasses in hooky, glossy, whimsical, modern Swedish heavy/power metal so effective that the band’s gimmick, the SidStation, is really very secondary in my mind. Quite frankly, power metal enthusiasts should already be well aware of the band’s contributions to the scene, and if they (or YOU) are not, it’s high time to correct that oversight.
Taking into account the band’s past and its side- (or perhaps primary) appeal to a video game crowd, the “progression” on Phantom Shadow is perhaps somewhat inevitable. Opener “The Villain Of This Story” is considerably more mellow than prior scorchers like “All Of My Angels” and “Overworld”. The percussion and guitar are as vibrant as ever, and a signature Machinae Supremacy chorus rears its head in this one, but I don’t find it nearly as memorable as many prior tunes. This feeling stuck with me throughout the album over multiple listens, and though the band is doing its alternative/hard rock and heavy metal thing very well, it overshadows past power metal leanings considerably. After the first two mid tempo track, I was ready for a long-awaited burner, but got the ballad “Europa” instead. It’s an inoffensive slow track, with a highlight in some excellent, varied guitar work not typical for the band, but I felt that what little energy was built up by the first two songs simply dropped off.
“Throne Of Games” (clever?) finally attempts a turnaround with a speedy and unhinged assault of guitar. Though it and “Phantom Battle” largely succeed, the album then drops into a long slough of slow to mid-tempo entries. Single “Beyond Good And Evil” is good, but I was underwhelmed by it upon release, and my fears that it would represent the change in style (or at least focus and pacing) on this album as a whole have been realized. In reality, the only songs I really think are worth writing home about are the swing-influenced “The Second One”, the SID- and guitar-heavy (more than half instrumental) “The Bigger They Are The Harder They Fall”, and the late-album slammer “Versus”. These, which all fall throughout the second half of Phantom Shadow, make it a very late-charged work to my ears.
This is hardly a poor release, but I’d be telling a bald-faced lie if I said I wasn’t disappointed in Phantom Shadow. The style is simplified when compared to the band’s preceding works, and I (and others in the power metal community) have long found the band’s quicker, catchier songs to be among its most original and memorable. The fact is, when Machinae Supremacy slows down, it becomes less distinct, seems to make less creative use of its fun SID elements, and loses track of how to pace itself. For a Machinae Supremacy album, this is downright mediocre, and one I find it hard to speak strongly of to other fans of the band, but it is by no means a complete bomb. Listeners who generally enjoy more moderate heavy metal may find this more approachable than earlier works of the band, but I would still claim it as an entry point to the group’s fantastic back-catalog. Recommended with reservations, and for the umpteenth time in the last couple of years, I’ll say that I think a band engaged in unfortunate foreshadowing when choosing an album title, as Phantom Shadow could be just that in relation to albums like Overworld and Rise Of A Digital Nation.
3.25 // 5