Issue 2013-051: Maschine - Rubidium - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: The Fallen (10:15), Rubidium (8:14), Cubixstro (8:51), Invincible (10:00), Venga (6:20), Eyes Pt 1 (5:52), Eyes Pt 2 (8:35)
Bonus Tracks: Chains (5:49), Reach Out (6:24)
Alison Henderson's Review
Rubidium is the 37th atomic element which gets its name from the Latin "rubidus" meaning dark red, the colour it gives out in the emission spectrum.
Here endeth the chemistry lesson but let's keep the colour analogy simply because, for Rubidium, Maschine have dipped their collective sonic paintbrushes into a very wide spectrum of the prog rock pallet to deliver their long awaited debut album.
What strikes you first about the album is its complete fearlessness. From the enormous flurry at the start of opener The Fallen to the big bold full-on finale of second bonus track Reach Out, these five young, very talented musicians based in the Brighton area deliver nine compositions, all of which come with a built-in swagger and presence.
Then you will remark on the diversity and complexity of the songs because one thing they do not let you do is relax at any point. This is because when you feel you are moving along with a particular groove or riff they are playing, they pull the rug from under your feet and take you off in an entirely different direction.
They wear their influences, such as Francis Dunnery, Pain of Salvation and Steven Wilson, very much on their sleeves but their ability as musicians to both play tightly together and deliver some fascinating texture to their sound is laudable.
Of course, the back story here is the 18 months that virtuoso guitarist Luke Machin and bass player Dan Mash spent in the ranks of The Tangent. One thing you can be sure of is that the experience has certainly sharpened their respective mojos and seen them grow both as musicians and composers.
Take opener The Fallen. The words "attack" and "drive" are writ large over this epic piece, with its huge heavy riffs interspersed with subtler synthy flourishes. You can even forgive the piece of gratuitous growling in there simply because of their youth and vigour. There is also a chance to hear the first instalment of Machin magic towards the end with the most beautiful, thoughtful and perfectly judged guitar solo. This will be a recurring theme throughout. The overall effect of this track is like heating an element, such as copper (or rubidium), and watching the colourful, albeit controlled, explosion which results.
This brings us on neatly to the title track, another carefully crafted song which starts with a very mannered, understated groove and downbeat vocal harmonies before it crackles into life with a massive riff crescendo and then pares back into the groove again. There is a very strong dynamic between the voices of Machin and Georgia Lewis, who is stunning throughout this track, providing a myriad of different keyboard treatments alongside the guitars, Elliott Fuller doing a sterling job in the rhythm department. Also noticeable on this track is some excellent stick work from former drummer Douglas Hamer whose sound was recorded by prog's favourite sound engineer Rob Aubrey at Aubitt Studios.
If you are ready for another surprise, one is coming your way courtesy of Cubixstro which bursts forth in Cuban salsa style. It is so catchy you could almost dance to it if it was not for the tricky time signature which accompanies it. It is a sultry little sizzler on which Luke and Georgia share vocal duties.
Some interesting guitar treatments are applied throughout before it opens up into a haunting vocal section, Georgia's sweet but purposeful voice multi-tracked to haunting effect. A very radio-friendly track this would be by way of some skilful editing.
With Invincible beginning with a simple, gentle acoustic guitar, this is Machin's paean to his hero Francis Dunnery. His voice is particularly effective here, especially against Georgia's vocals coupled with light and breezy melody lines with flute effect and keyboards. Then suddenly it all scales up into a bigger, more rounded sound, Machin's guitar blazing like a beacon in the night. You can only marvel at the dexterity and fluidity of his playing at junctures such as these. Then it all gets jazzy and somewhat reminiscent of Bob James, signalling a chance to admire the super cool lower register runs of Mash, who shows incredible finesse in his playing. A finer young exponent of the bass would be hard to find currently.
Time to switch back to the rock groove with Venga, another mighty work-out with looping riffs aplenty and some breathy, expressive vocals added to the mix, especially from Georgia, as well as a bit more growling. Daniel Gildenlöw should enjoy this one as the song does doff its cap to Pain of Salvation.
Finally, Eyes Pts 1 and 2 bring the main body of the album to a classy conclusion. With its sweet Steven Wilson motifs and multi-layers of instrumentation, these two accompanying pieces again reinforce the creativity and drive that Maschine possess in their engine room. Working tightly as a unit, there is a terrific bold as brass energy to the playing with keyboards and guitar in close unity but making the most of the tight rhythm section.
The two bonus tracks comprise the poppier, more commercial Break The Chain and the Latino-led grooves of Reach Out which again serve to remind us of the versatility of the band.
In conclusion, though it has been a long time coming, the wait was justified and this album should be an integral part of any prog lover's collection. Whereas it does not yet quite possess the polish of some of the current crop of great albums, how can anyone not be impressed by the sheer ambition and scope of Rubidium? The ever tricky second album is going to be very special if this debut is anything to go by.
Maschine are young and are a breath of fresh air. If this is what it takes to get more of the next generation of prog lovers interested, then we have nothing to fear. With other young bands such as Sanguine Hum and the Von Hertzen Brothers also stamping their individual marks on the genre, we also have so much to celebrate with these, tomorrow's prog torchbearers.
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
Well it's been a while in coming but finally it's here, the debut from Maschine. The band, formed and fronted by Luke Machin (ex-The Tangent) and his music academy colleague Daniel Mash, has been working on this release for several years, during which the name of the project changed from Concrete Lake (who DPRP reviewed at the Summer's End Festival in 2011) to Maschine and since the demise of Luke's role in The Tangent it has been full steam ahead on the album, Rubidium.
One thing that is certainly never in question here is that Maschine, although being a new band, are more than capable of delivering a blistering audio debut. Luke Machin is a highly skilled and accomplished guitar player who combines the fluidity of Steve Vai and the expression of Francis Dunnery yet adds his own original stamp to the mix. Daniel Mash is an innovative bassist, never content to simply sit on the beat he is everywhere pushing, pulling driving and holding back the beat, often in the same piece. Together with the solid support of the other band members - Georgia Lewis (keys & vocals), Elliott Fuller (guitars) and James Stewart (drums) - a bedrock is formed for some creative expression that will rock your world.
Opener The Fallen sets the scene with a speed tapped introduction over a swath of keyboards before a meaty riff enters with Luke Machin still tapping away over the top to great effect. There is a very definite early It Bites influence in this opener however there are other factors at play here too with an almost death metal growl at one stage. It's certainly an impressive opening salvo and statement of intent by Maschine to show they have more than just serious instrumental chops and that composition, melody and harmonic balance play an equal part in their sound.
Rubidium (the title track) follows and switches from lighter moments into a prog metal groove, featuring some strong guitar work from Luke set against some very atmospheric keyboards to great effect. This is a slow burner that will reveal its delight after continued plays.
Cuibixstro opens with a recurring, almost jazzy, motif with more added layers of instruments being added before the song actually starts and when it does it's both funky and spacious at the same time with some great bass playing and nifty yet light guitar runs from Luke. In addition there is a great vocal from Georgia with some suitably adept underpinning from the rest of Maschine. It's definitely prog but not as we normally know it and it makes for a very effective and mesmerizing track indeed.
Invincible opens very languidly with a lazily strummed arpeggio guitar part and some breathy vocals. Again Luke's appreciation for Francis Dunnery's style and voicings is apparent but don't be fooled, this is no mere carbon copy, instead Maschine shape the piece into their own style and although this is a somewhat lighter track it still showcases admirably the versatility that these guys and gal are capable of delivering. Just after the six minute mark there is a classic Luke Machin solo, highly constructed and tautly executed, before moving into a faster paced shuffle rhythm and then come the guitar pyrotechnics that Luke delivers so well with such flair and precision. After this Daniel Mash takes up the mantle delivering some very nifty bass runs and parts making this another great track.
Indeed, it is the light and shade used within this album that gives it a gravitas and import that is usually beyond that of a debut by a relatively new band. It is encouraging to hear the willingness to both experiment and push their own boundaries making for a worthy listen, yet this is never a case of "look at how good we are" and the displays seek only to give the music its texture and to make it memorable.
Venga opens with a descending guitar part and then a very tight and powerful riff, again this piece has both heavy and lighter moments juxtaposed throughout. Georgia Lewis shines on this one with her vocals adding a real depth to the song itself especially at the mid-point before a chugging riff enters and some neatly plucked guitar lines are overlaid, the sound simple but effective all the same. One of the shorter tracks, it is still another triumph for this young band by any standards.
Eyes Pts 1 and 2 taken together comprise some fourteen and a half minutes of Maschine music and, again, they employ a complex riff and time signature with varied vocal phrasings to good effect. No denying that this is a heavier track and there is certainly a lot going on with sound coming from all over the place. Strong bass and keyboard playing with guitars everywhere, it's refreshing to hear a classical guitar being used to dramatic effect towards the end of Eyes pt. 1 and some understated piano opening Eyes pt. 2 before Luke's surging guitar comes in, taking and twisting the riff before heading stratospheric with some dizzyingly fluid playing that both impresses with its versatility yet never swamps the song. The second solo is shorter and more concise and I reckon it's Elliot who delivers it and whilst it may be hard to stand in Luke's shadow he does a grand job of adding some neat flourishes throughout and being an integral part of the whole Maschine sound.
There are also two bonus tracks on the normal release but having not heard them I cannot comment. That said I would expect them to be of a similar high standard to what is delivered on the rest of Rubidium.
Well there it is, finally some few years after they formed Maschine deliver their debut and my verdict is that it is a very modern and at times intense listen but that within its seven main tracks there is a freshness that has signs of great promise. It's a well performed and produced set of material that shows just how capable this band really are.
The only criticism I would level is at the vocals which employ a variety of styles often in the same piece and can confuse and whilst I'm not especially a fan of the death metal growl (but each to their own) it certainly doesn't detract overly from what is for me an excellent debut album. I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Rubidium. If you like Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation et al then this one will be right up your street with its harder sound and technical proto metal leanings so go and discover it for yourself, somehow I don't think you'll be disappointed. I certainly wasn't.
Edwin Roosjen's Review
The main person behind Maschine is guitarist Luke Machin. Still in his early twenties Luke started playing at about the age of two and is best known for his short stay with The Tangent. There he was accompanied by bass player Daniel Mash with whom he had started the band Concrete Lake and, now renamed Maschine, Rubidium is their debut album.
Maschine is a bunch of talented young people that try to cover a lot of musical ground on this one hour album. Machin's guitar playing is all over this album and covers a lot of styles, playing all his parts with a noticeable ease. His style to me comes closest to Joe Satriani but the music on Rubidium is a lot more jazz orientated. On the back of this you hear some nice bass from Daniel Mash and keyboard player Georgia Lewis is in the background when Luke does his thing but when she gets the opportunity she really flies over the keys.
Over a year ago I saw Maschine playing live and they really blew me away. Back then they started the concert with the first song from Rubidium, called The Fallen, and hearing it again brought back memories of that concert. It is a very complex song with many changes in the rhythm, starting with fast guitar tapping and ending with mellow piano. The vocals are not outstanding and this can be said for the whole album. It is nice that the album is not completely instrumental but this disc will certainly not be remembered for its vocals or lyrics. The title track has more structure but is still very complex, a dark song with slow passages that easily changes to a faster part. The mid-section is freer with solos going back and forth.
Cubixstro has a very easy jazzy style and is more in the style of the music from The Tangent. Invincible is also very jazzy with more room for the keyboard and some nice flute. Machin does not fly on this one, well, maybe a little bit, but this is a dreamy song with more lyrics and less in the way of instrumental trickery.
After a few songs that I hadn't previously heard it is back to songs that I had experienced live. Venga is more of a rock song with heavy parts and a faster pace but, of course, also a lot of jazzy parts. This is the only song where I really think the vocals could have been mixed in better. A heavy song needs a heavy voice but the vocals here are a bit too thin. With Eyes parts I & II the album closes in style, which for Maschine means many different styles. No boundary is left untouched and anything is possible.
It has been a long time since I heard something as refreshing as Rubidium. When I saw the band live a year ago I entered open minded about what to expect and that is certainly needed for the music on this album. If you start listening expecting a rock, jazz or any other particular style of music then you might get more than you asked for as this talented bunch decided to put all these styles on their debut album. You need an open mind and an interest in musical styles to accept this album but if you do then it is certainly a very good album.
Guillermo Palladino's Review
In 2011 there was a last minute addition to the Summer's End Festival when a band called Concrete Lake was included in the roster. It was then that things really started for guitarist Luke Machin and his band.
Machin is a young guitarist best known for having been discovered by The Tangent's Andy Tillison and playing guitars on their album COMM (2011) which also featured Concrete Lake's Dan Mash on bass. Since then Concrete Lake have changed their name to Maschine, Luke and Dan joining forces with Elliot Fuller (guitars), James Stewart (drums) and Georgia Lewis (keyboards).
Overall, their debut album Rubidium seems to be a very complex and varied proposal in which we can hear rhythm changes, symphonic progressive arrangements, Italian prog-alike guitar sounds contrasting with Heavy Prog and Jazzy arrangements plus the voice of Georgia Lewis in several choruses, backing vocals and harmonies. The most obvious influences I note are Pain of Salvation and It Bites, amongst others, and most of the songs average around 9 minutes. I particularly think that this is a somewhat risky situation because it is a hard job to prevent a song from becoming boring if the playing time is too long.
The Fallen is a very complex song and a powerful way to open this record or perhaps is the best way the band found to show to the listeners all of the influences and techniques that they can manage. The song has early Dream Theater and Pain of Salvation influences but occasionally switchesng to a lighter arrangement with less complex solos. Instead of Machin's versatility I have to emphasize the job done by Georgia Lewis on the keyboards; a nice duet with the guitars and a good piano solo at the end. Perhaps The Fallen is too strong and too long to kick off the album because after this track the whole record becomes lighter.
Rubidium is a darker song that switches with a heavier and faster arrangement in the chorus and a huge influence from previous decades Progressive Metal harmonies and arrangements. No surprise that with all the work done in this song we also get a great guitar performance. With Cubixstro the whole musical context of the album changes as now we have a more dynamic song which combines Latin and Jazz arrangements. For the first time I can hear the job done by Dan Mash. This is a very fresh song, necessary to form a little break after the two previous tracks.
Invincible has a nice acoustic guitar solo beginning with quiet voices from Machin and Lewis in the background. It turns more harmonic with a nice flute arrangement that reminds to me some italian symphonic rock bands, I like this one a lot. The problem is that if you listen to this song and then compare it with the first ones you probably can't recognise that we are talking about the same band, even the same record.
And now its time to come back to the heavier stuff with Venga, a song with interesting bass lines and beautiful vocal harmonies by Georgia Lewis in constrast with the raspier ones from Machin, which I don't think adds any value to this great song.
The Eyes Pt. 1 and 2 forms a suite that marks the end of the album, more complex with this mix between the harmonies and the prog metal-esque arrangements. I like the acoustic guitar solo and the piano section at the end of the first part, very classic, very "Italian Prog" that turns into an electric riff to start the second part which I feel is heavier but more atmospheric at the same time. It reminds me of Riverside in a few of the arrangements.
There is no doubt that this band has the ability to merge different musical styles as a unit without becoming boring or disordered. I think that it is just a matter of the band being stricter with themselves and covering the details better. This is a good record but it has a few weaknesses, one of my teammates said in his review "Heavy music, requires a heavy voice". It is not a matter of going for the growling approach, the voice has to be wider in the same way as the musical style of the band. I feel that the mix is too weak with the guitar always at the front. I heard the bass only a few times and the whole mix was just too bright for me, too thin, and Stewart's drum technique appears to be a bit lost. I feel that Maschine have plenty more surprises to offer their listeners from now on and will not dissapoint if they fix a couple of things so I'll give them 7.5 in this review and leave the rest to our kindly readers.