MASCHINE - Naturalis
Three years ago, Maschine came out of nowhere and really convinced me with their debut album Rubidium. Then it was rather quiet before they came finally back with their second album Naturalis, slightly changed in their line-up with a new drummer and a new keyboarder/vocalist. Luke Machin is still the great virtuoso guitarist he used to be on the debut, but the new drummer really sounds much tighter, and especially Marie-Eve de Gaultier really elevates the music to a new dimension with her melancholy soulful vocals. Co-singer Luke Machin has also worked on his performance, so that the combined vocals feel mellower and less aggressive than on the debut.
So all in all, Naturalis feels more pop oriented at first glance, coming with a more accessible sound, but once you dig underneath the surface, you will notice that the band uses this approach to give the plentiful progressive parts even more depth. Take for instance the twelve-minute opener Resistance which starts with a trippy electronic part before delving deep into art rock drama. The shared vocals are really amazing, but should not let us overlook the incredible guitar playing that at times is astonishingly wild yet always works in favour of the song. The songís last third then leaves the bandís overall modern sound for a journey into fully-fledged retro prog, but that is an exception for this otherwise very forward thinking quintet.
The following Night And Day is at five minutes the albumís shortest track and even owes a little to Eighties new wave pop sound. That may sound like an absolute no-go but let us not forget that some progressive rock bands really had some major pop hits: Yes, It Bites, Asia and possibly Genesis. Make Believe is some kind of ballad, very moving, not overly progressive, possibly with seven minutes a little too much on the long side, and in my opinion the weakest moment on the album, although many prog bands were still happy to have such a quality track in their repertoire.
The incredible happens with the albumís second half where the band finally awakens to its fullest glory. Hidden In Plain Sight is a funky pop song with a very jazzy atmosphere, and itís here where Marie-Eve vocals truly unravel all of their magic. A song to fall in love with! The final two tracks are even longer, starting with the nine minutes of A New Reality, a vast prog epic that uses all of the bandís ingredients. All of this is perfected on the brilliant Megacyma Ė by the way the Latin word for tsunami Ė just like the opener a twelve-minute tour de force, although in a more focused way. The songís intro has a certain horror movie feeling, before two and a half minutes into the song, it drastically changes direction with really forceful guitar playing and shared male-female vocals, where the latter have this mournful quality with a decent understatement that make them once again pure magic.
As it is, I was already quite enchanted by the Britís debut three years ago, but Naturalis is a major improvement, making this an effort of near perfection. Letís hope the line-up stays stable as I am certain that this version of Maschine still has a lot of great albums ahead of itself.