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Hibernal - The Machine CD (album) cover

THE MACHINE

Hibernal

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.96 | 70 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
5 stars Welcome to The Machine.

Hibernal is the brainchild of musician, writer and visionary Mark Healey, from Brisbane Australia. His project "The Machine" is a masterful concept album of cinematic proportions, unfolding as a compelling narrative using complex musical structures, special sound effects and unforgettable dialogue, professionally delivered by the likes of Rowan Michaels as Narrator, Samantha BĆ©art as Jane, and Robert Blythe as Mr Wilkins. The dialogue comes in mostly at the intro of each musical piece and the story is very easy to follow and involves a haunting conceptual idea, that a man may be recruited by a malicious secret organisation with malevolent intentions. The employee soon finds himself caught up in a horrifying web without escape, as the company takes away his humanity piece by piece even replacing his human self with mechanized robotic parts including his hand, legs and heart among other pieces. Invariably the man finds the world he once knew being slowly eradicated into a shadowy memory, including his lady Jane.

The main component that really shines out on this album is the professional handling of the dialogue that is dramatically handled by all involved. Dialogue is delivered with empathy by the benevolent Jane who is pained by seeing her partner becoming more distant. Mr Wilkins is a shady character with a mystique behind his evil tones as he controls his employees without remorse or humanity; perhaps he is machine like himself. Finally there is the Narrator that has a comforting resonance and feels totally reliable as he relays the chilling tale of how he was inducted into the organisation, we feel his excitement as he is promoted, and we sense his despair as he faces the demise of his human self as the company virtually swallows him whole. The conspiracy is prominent and may be allegorical to any organisation that controls its subjects like a cult. On every listen I am totally captivated by the story and it retains a power upon the senses causing one to question what occurred to this man, and indeed who is this company that exists to turn its employees into machines to work without thought. It may be an allegory of the working class being controlled by the upper class, but in any case it has sci-fi elements that are unmistakable, and yet it reads as a modern day fable of oppression in a government controlled system; the mechanization of society by an all controlling power.

The music works very well to convey the emotions and bleakness of the tale. It begins with hypnotic guitar motifs, a steady pace and ethereal tones of synthesizer. There are melancholy acoustic vibrations and piano in some early parts as Jane fights to understand her estranged husband. The first tracks 'This High', 'Downward' and 'An Open Door' are integral as they tell how the employee is taken to Sub level 19, gains a machine hand modification and finds himself climbing the ladder of success literally as he ascends higher in the glass tower; the higher one goes the more power they are given.

As the tale becomes darker the music transcends into darker passages of distorted metal guitar and a pulsating bassline. 'Downward' features an extended lead break with scintillating fret work and grinding distortion; some of the best lead work on offer. On 'Home' Jane realises her husband is becoming lost in his work to the point where they barely see each other. The guitar melody is acoustically driven emoting a bleak tone, then a reverberating lead guitar resounds with a wonderful resonance. I particularly like the tension between Jane and Narrator. A definitive highlight of the album is 'Losing Touch' that has so many time sig changes and mood swings it represents the feelings of the protagonist. The music is faster and more aggressive, metal on metal and a driving rock beat shine forth. The bassline is awesome reminding me of the work of Geddy Lee or John Myung in places. The Narrator ascends to level 87 and is now a more efficient worker typing with just his machine hand now. The distorted guitar is well executed here and the heavy approach is akin to the heavy emotions of the worker. The excellent track ends with a swirling synthesizer with a melancholy atmosphere.

'Hard at Work' begins with a phone machine message where Jane complains that her husband did not do some repairs so she did them anyway; he is obviously too occupied with the company now to be tangles up in relationships. 'No Return' sees the employee given new improvements to his legs, now a machine leg replaces the other giving him more speed and agility, to be a more proficient worker. The music settles into a measured cadence that slowly ebbs with the sadness that the man has become trapped in the mechanism of the company. The lead guitar is played with finesse along the doomy bass and clashing cymbals; some of the finest musicianship by Healey.

'One Last Glimpse' opens with the Narrator stating he began to forget things, his knowledge and skill at work only improved with the improvements, but he didn't care about his family life, and that made it difficult for him to realise that at some point Jane left him. The next piece of music transfixes with its minor chord structure and Mellotron sounds; absolutely haunting melodies that augment the storyline so eloquently.

'Disconnection' is a mini epic clocking 10 minutes, beginning with a beautiful guitar delay that always captures my ears. Another highlight of the album, the music is outstanding with the lead guitar embellishments over a soundscape of swathes of synthesizers. The narrative is now more urgent as the man mentions how he was lapsing in and out of consciousness, as he engaged in meetings at the upper level, becoming a man who was on automatic pilot, controlled totally by what the company wanted. He is promoted to level 163 and more upgrades are made, and as he looked down from his ivory tower at the people below him he marvels at how inferior they have become. The phase effect on the guitar mimics this automated state perfectly and there is a downbeat melody with a hard razor edge. At this point of the album I am in awe at how compelling this story is to my senses; it speaks so much of the automation of life locked in a system controlled by the upper elite; a conspiracy of mammoth proportions. The most chilling part of the album occurs in this segment when a woman meets up with the Narrator and he wants her just to get on and state her business. He doesn't recognise that the woman is actually his ex-wife. The acoustic flourishes lock in after this, representing the shred of emotion that the man may feel or perhaps it is Jane's state of mind as she realises her husband is hopelessly lost. We hear fragments of memories that echo like scattered distant recollections. The story reminds me somewhat of "Total Recall", "Vanilla Sky", or "I, Robot" in some ways, yet it has an original edge playing out like an Asimov or Moorcock short story, or a "Twilight Zone" episode, or "Prisoner", where a man faces incredible odds and fights to make sense of it all. It also reminded me of the movie "Brazil", especially with the secretive corporation that are a destructive force to those who try and recoil from the system.

'Years' sees the Narrator promoted to level 201 and the return of Mr Wilkins is most welcome. The Narrator has been with the company 24 years at this point which shocks him. He is promoted to Sub level 19 where Wilkins tells him "the transaction will be complete? there are more modifications that can be done". 'The Coldness' is the final piece of the mystery, and has a powerful ending that I do not want to give away here. Suffice it to say it is totally appropriate and leaves a lasting impression. There are some stunning plot twists in this section and it certainly leaves one with a number of tantalising questions; that may or may not have an answer. It leaves me with a disquieting discomfort, as all good sci-fi's should. I find myself pondering: What is the final state of the main protagonist? What is Jane's part in all this? Is she part of The Machine Corporation? If so, what is to become of her and her husband? What are all the flashes of memory and soundbites that the protagonist hears? Is this another life or something more sinister? Who is in charge of the corporation and what work do they do? Why does the protagonist need a mechanical hand and leg, and what exactly does he do that is so important? The most potent question of all is are we part of the corporation and we do not even know it?

"The Machine" is an album I have not tired of in all my many listens. On first listen I was mesmerised by the tale, and by the fourth listen I was delighted to relive this dark tale of man becoming machine. I always look forward to returning to this album as it encompasses so much in its short time span. The music is absolutely hypnotic and while there are no songs, it doesn't matter, as the tale is so well told by the players, each a superlative voice that enhances the enjoyment and adds to the mystery. There are no components of the album that grate on the nerves, nothing becomes frustrating or annoying as it captivates in the imagination and must be heard from beginning to end to appreciate the full power of the thought provoking tale. It would be worth making into a short movie available on a deluxe edition. I would state this album as being one of the masterpieces of the year; a sublime journey into dark and mysterious things, a nightmarish vision of a possible future where machines will take over slowly and we become part of the machine.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |

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