Machinae Supremacy has a long and storied history, forming at the turn of the century and growing their own little legion of fans worldwide by being one of the most proliferated acts online, relying heavily upon word-of-mouth, offering several albums-worth of free downloads on their website (which amass more than 100,000 downloads per month), and even benevolently advertising that their discography is available on The Pirate Bay.
That said, nearly fifteen years later and now six albums deep (Webography, game soundtracks, and a “Best Of” compilation excluded), the Swedish fivesome have seen several lineup changes and meticulous tweaking of a unique sound that fused the the bloops and bleeps of games long past, the beloved power metal soundscape, and the familiar grooves and bounces of worldwide pop music. Phantom Shadow acts as a culmination of many of the best aspects that Machinae Supremacy has cultivated over the years and sports some of the best songwriting the band has ever produced.
Their first solid foray into concept album territory, Phantom Shadow reigns supreme as Machinae Supremacy’s finest work in musicianship and production. No other album in their discography sounds as clean or as properly layered, each track hitting with a beautiful and precise punch.
The addition of Tomi Luoma to the songwriting roster has greatly expanded the band’s sound as well, with a slew of songs having the same familiar tropes that made us fall in love, but offering overall improved structuring to make for an interesting listening experience. Having four guitarists by trade available to write songs certainly seems like chaos, but each of the members seems to have contributed something special here, with no songs encroaching on one another’s territory. Though the album stands as a story all the way through, each track (save for the storytelling bits) works perfectly as its own island, firmly planting its musical feet in your ears.
One of the main criticisms brought against the band over their last couple of albums has been the idea that they were relegating themselves to “fight songs”—standalone tracks that were about coming together and rebelling against the machine, so to speak. The introduction of the overall story with Phantom Shadow ebbs and flows with anger and anguish and agitation and amusement. Exampling tracks like “Phantom Battle” as the pinnacle of a conflict, while the somber “Europa” shows a quiet venomous attitude slowly rising, we dig even further with “Renegades” as another rallying song, but stands less as something to do combat to and works as a precursor to the battle. “The Second One” echoes the musically bouncy sentiment of “Indiscriminate Murder is Counter-Productive” from A View From the End of the World, which is deceptive as the song has a more serious lyrical nature about rising up to an occasion, despite its light-hearted tone.
Though it comes in as the final track, “Hubnester Rising” may be the most important song the band have ever produced, brilliantly combining the Hubnester thematic used throughout their career, perfectly fusing the anthemic nature the band has nearly always closed their albums with (“Machinae Prime,” “Empire,” “Stand,” “Remnant,” and “99”), and seemingly giving rise to something brand new to the band; the song depicts the ending of a countdown sequence, perhaps to a doomsday device of some sort, as our protagonist stands alone to face new obstacles at the helm, to break out from the walls that hold.
Perhaps the protagonist represents the band as a whole, breaking free of whatever world they had before and looking to tread new grounds, perhaps even skies, as a more powerful unit than ever before. Though Machinae Supremacy has constantly evolved in musicianship, many feel that 2006’s Redeemer was the pinnacle of their career. Their drive to explore new grounds within their established biosphere, however, have allowed them to overcome the potentially tumultuous stagnation that plagues so many other artists who struggle to produce half as many records.
If anything can be said of Phantom Shadow, it’s this—Machinae Supremacy have absolutely produced their best album since Redeemer. Without any doubt, you’re bound to appreciate the album wholly from the bright guitar at the beginning of “The Villain of this Story” all the way to the fade of “Hubnester Rising.” Nearly flawless as a storytelling device and perfectly consumable in a segmented manner.
Machinae Supremacy’s Phantom Shadow gets…