Machina Viva marks the end of a five year silence from Sweden’s Wolverine. A long time indeed to go without their blend of utterly beautiful melodies and emotionally charged songwriting. They’ve come a long way since their first demo way back in 1996 but they never cease to amaze with the amount of progress from one release to the next. This album, while being a natural next step from their last, is no different. Somehow they’ve found a way to get a little closer to the heart while fully engaging the mind with their intricate passages and subtle nuances.
The choice by the band to focus on melodic and progressive structures rather than death metal (initially) has been a good one. Across their previous four releases the band has done many things but the moody aspect of their music has remained a constant. The dark feel at the heart of The Window Purpose, the intense and heavy emotions at play on Cold Light Of Monday, and even the more metal centered Still have all been deeply rooted in mood-centered songwriting. And as far as songwriting goes Communication Lost stands as one of their best in that aspect. Sweeping, epic, and beautiful – the band touched on some of their best instrumentation and arrangements heard to that point. No noodling or showing off, just exceptional performances each and every time out. And that’s but one of the many strengths of this band, taking what they’ve done before and making it better, as well as making the next statement of superiority in the melodic prog arena.
The expanse and emotions covered on this album is nothing short of grandiose. Take the brooding “Nemesis” and how it slowly builds then levels out into a mind bending prog arrangement. The vocal lines are sweeping but the guitar work from Jonas Jonsson may well be his finest yet. Recalling the heavier feel of Still is “Pledge” with a harder edge, memorable riffs, and rock solid percussion from Marcus Losbjer. “Machina” finds the band experimenting once again with electronic sounds and using minimalism to great benefit. Light, brisk drumming and major keyboard work loom large but Stefan Zell’s vocals break through for yet another lifting performance. Zell has reached new heights on this album, his voice has always been smooth and effortless, particularly so on the higher notes but he’s never been better than on the heart wrenching “Our Last Goodbye” (featured here). His melodies and range are outstanding as he wrings every bit of heartache from the song.
“The Bedlam Overture” is one of the band’s most ambitious tracks and subsequently one of their longest clocking in at just over 14 minutes it’s one of the most indicative of the road the band has traveled. Intricate guitar and keyboard arrangements make up the bulk of the track and even though it occasionally hits a heavier tone it never crosses into angry territory, those days are long in the rear view mirror. Epic only begins to describe the feel here, but it never once feels too long or overstays its welcome. The varied chord progressions and intense bass work from Thomas Jansson keeps the rhythm firmly planted, as does the tension and release in the riff/drum combinations. To pull off a track such as this takes inventiveness and letter perfect songwriting — Wolverine absolutely nail it. Truthfully they nail the whole album, from deeply emotional songs to progressively experimental it seems there’s nothing they can’t do.
On Machina Viva, Wolverine touch on every possible emotion in a huge way. Loss, yearning, sadness, and even uplifting at times they continue to be an exciting and absolutely essential voice in the melodic prog arm of music. The songwriting on this album is stellar and I dare say it’s their best — after many hours with this album it’s an honest conclusion. Machina Viva is an overwhelming success of an album, and when viewed through the lens of all that came before, it is another beautifully written and perfectly executed chapter in the book of Wolverine.