Brighton’s Maschine impressed Prog on their jazz-lilted debut Rubidium when it was released back in 2013. However, in the relentless create/tour/release/implode cycle of the music industry, three years can seem like forever. It’s more than enough time for a band to peter out, fall-out or plain run-out of ideas. For their part, Maschine seem to have put every minute of that time to good use. There have been two line-up changes (adding new drummer James Stewart and keyboard player/vocalist Marie-Eve de Gaultier) and numerous tours supporting the likes of Haken and Leprous in the intervening period – and that shared experience manifests itself clearly on Naturalis.
Achieves seismic shape-shifts with Zen-like clarity.
You may know by now that frontman/guitarist Luke Machin has shared stages with Robert Plant and Jeff Beck, so it’s no shock that he can piece together a band with considerable chops, but Naturalis makes even Maschine’s own debut sound unfinished by comparison. Make Believe is a fine example – there’s a spaciousness, a more coherent approach to songwriting and a far richer production sound than we’ve heard from Maschine previously, with de Gaultier’s silken backing harmonies and gentle piano sounds alternating with Machin’s restrained melodic Strat line in delicate unison.
Hidden In Plain Sight is further evidence of Machin’s move towards the Gilmour space-time continuum, but offers a glimpse of the old Maschine in the fast-fretted fusion builds of Stewart and bassist Dan Mash – two players clearly cut from the same musical cloth. The score-like 12-minute opener Resistance, meanwhile, has hair-raisingly epic qualities. Tension-building chugs march into a rolling chorus with a group vocal that attempts to soar before it seemingly gets dragged back into cloying filth, with Machin and de Gaultier’s vocals sounding contrastingly dark and ethereal. And that’s before we talk the blinding centre-point solo, the track’s seamless transition into acoustic-led ambience and whirling keyboard arpeggios (and back again!), or how it concludes with an adroitly short section of face-melting shred guitar.
It’s a complex, challenging and bewildering effect and it happens a lot while listening to Naturalis. Many was the time we found ourselves skipping back through tracks just to try and establish just how the hell we had wound-up in such vastly new territory from whence we came. What’s most impressive though, is that it’s all achingly well-balanced, always in-the-pocket and achieves these seismic shape-shifts with Zen-like clarity. A bold and brilliant step from a band long marked for progressive greatness.