Wolverine_Machina VivaI could spend all 700 words of this review talking about why Wolverine is a horrible name for this band. As most of us northerners are aware, wolverines are vicious beasts capable of bringing down prey far larger than themselves. They have a gluttonous reputation, and almost no other creatures want to mess with them. Wolverines certainly wouldn’t be in a band that featured keyboards, or harmony backing vocals, or heaven forbid a fretless bass solo. Figuring out why the band is named thusly is worth a quick Google.

Sweden’s Wolverine are not a well known band in North America – their first time on this side of the pond was in 2013. In fact, one has to sort through numerous links to American high school marching bands before finding Wolverine’s website. Turns out they began life as a death metal band (Death metal seems to be the logical evolutionary precursor to dreamy sadboy navel-gaze prog), but quickly realized they enjoyed the proggier side of things more than the extreme. Machina Viva is their fifth full-length release and not since their first recordings has the music’s ferocity matched their name.

But let’s grudgingly let go of the name and focus on the music. With the death growls far in the rear view mirror, and the metal tendencies pale compared to what they once were, Wolverine focuses on mood, texture, and atmosphere, all while maintaining a respectable modicum of past aggression. Epic opening track “The Bedlam Overture” is a great example of this focus, equal parts moody introspection and melodic passages, interrupted throughout with short bursts of more metallic prog (including Thomas Janssen’s aforementioned fretless bass solo). Like the band’s name (sorry, I guess I can’t let it go totally), bedlam is not wholly accurate, but overture is. By far the longest song on the record, it has an intricate arrangement and is a fine example of the album as a whole.

Wolverine do not limit themselves to any single sound or style on Machina Viva. Second cut “Machina” opens with synth and electronic drum loops, and builds through a gradual progression to a true, albeit abrupt, prog metal finish. Consider it a highlight of the album. “Pile of Ash” appears twice on Machina Viva. The first time, a stripped down electric guitar and vocal dirge. The second replaces guitar with a string ensemble, closing the album on a somber note. The second is the more compelling version, but it follows the seven minute “Sheds,” itself a slow synth-driven number, thus giving us twelve minutes of hymn-like introspection to close things out. Maybe not the best choice as far as song order is concerned.

Wolverine_2016

“Pile of Ash” and “Machina” suffer from the opposite problem of most progressive metal: they end in rather jarring fashion on an unresolved note, making the listener wish they kept going. It’s odd for songs that are five or six minutes long to come to such abrupt ends, without even seguing into the next cut. The performances are solid  – vocalist Stefan Zell sings with clarity and emotion, and Per Henriksson’s synth samples are tasteful – but it sounds like Wolverine couldn’t come up with endings for those two tracks. A minor nitpick, but annoying.

That said, there is a satisfying variety to the tracks on Machina Viva. Slower, moodier cuts dominate, but the arrangement of these songs, notably “When The Night Comes” and “Nemesis,” keep the listener engaged. “Nemesis” in particular begins as a piano/vocal duet, and one wonders if they should press the skip button, but hang in there because a compelling prog track lurks, featuring guitarist Jonas Jonsson’s strongest solo on the album.

Machina Viva is a well-mixed, well-produced record. As one might expect, the band employs a plethora of instruments here – electric, electronic, and acoustic – and all come through the mix clean and vibrant. Nothing is overdone production-wise, keeping the feel very authentic. The stereotypical pitfalls of prog metal are avoided here, with the exception of song length. With the middle songs all clocking in around eight or nine minutes, and all leaning towards the slower, moodier tilt of the band, things do drag a bit.

Perhaps most similar to a lighter version of modern day Katatonia, or a more orchestral version of Pleasant Shade of Grey-era Fates Warning, Machina Viva (and Wolverine’s back catalog by extension) is worth a listen. Now I’m off to start a Rename That Band campaign. I’m thinking maybe Arctic Fox



Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 11 |  Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Sensory Records
Websites: wolverine-overdose.com | facebook.com/wolverinetheband
Releases Worldwide: June 10th, 2016

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  • Wojtek

    I loved their “Window purpose” ages ago, when I was a depressed and sad teenager drinking too much cheap wine. It was cheesy beyond imagination but quite musical (and very badly recorded). They used to grunt back there, occasionally. I’ll have a chance to see them at ProgPower this year, and perhaps it won’t be one of the beer bands (or it will). I shall check their new stuff… Thanks for writing this.

  • Ein Sophistry

    Nothing screams metal quite like nematode gonads.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      I didn’t know nematode gonads could scream!

  • Antilight

    Why are the websites for Airbag?

    • Col_Dax

      Fools seldom differ – I think you were a few seconds faster ;-)

  • Col_Dax

    Machina went from viva to perpleja, cause the links for website and facebook are pointing to Airbag…

    • We suffered from hysterical prog blindness and mistakes were made.

  • Berit Dogg

    I thoght this was about the dreamy sadboy high school navel-gaze marching band. Damn.

  • Wolverine is a band that has remained under the radar for so long. I feel as though the band is partly to blame for their inconsistent releases, but when they’re good, they’re great. The Window Purpose was amazing and so was their 2006 album Still. I didn’t care for Communication Lost, so hopefully this album is a return to form for them…

  • Daneel Olivaw

    so this is prog metal??looks like A-ha to me!

    • Scourge

      Oh my… This actually does sound like latter day a-ha! That’s so weird…

      • Oscar Albretsen

        Can’t really argue. It kinda does…

  • Thatguy

    Thanks for the review Huck. Is this your thing or is SD oppressing you? Sounds like the usual re-Prog to me. Ho-hum.

    • The man likes prog and this is his honeymoon phase as a new writer. The AMG oppression comes later.

      • Thatguy

        Roll on the oppression.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Why do you always have to be that guy?

          • Thatguy

            Ha.

            I can’t help it.

          • Thatguy

            But I’m sorry for accidentally upvoting myself – I blame the phone.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            That’s OK. If you really agree with yourself and you really like what you said, you can always upvote yourself. ;)

    • Alex Benedict

      Wait, since when has re-prog been a thing? I know this site loves re-thrash, but that’s the only “re” genre I’ve come across.

  • robpal

    Their previous album was awesome, so can’t wait for this one! Glad it’s a good one too.

  • Kmill

    A+ review. Its worth a listen just because the review was stellar.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I have been meaning to check Wolverine out since I read some nice review for “The Window Purpose” back when it came out, most likely on “Metal Maniacs”… If I remember well the review said they mixed some touches of Death Metal with Prog and that made me curious. Well, apparently not curious enogh since 13 years later and I have not checked them out.

  • Innit Bartender

    Never name your band after a comic-book fella… also, wasn’t there a band that had a “Wolverine Blues” song?

    • [not a Dr]

      From more or less exactly the same country.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      A “Wolverine Blues” song and a whole “Wolverine Blues” album.

  • sir_c

    Arctic Fox sounds too much like the follow-up of web browser Iceweasel

  • Stefunal

    No matter what genres I listen to and what bands I discover, I always seem to get back to progressive metal. Something about dreamy sadboy navel-gaze prog just speaks to me like nothing else does. Oh well, I’d better get back to listening to the new Katatonia again.

  • Synthetase

    It’s “thus” not “thusly”

  • One hell of an album, bass line is pretty clear and easy to hear, german power-ish vocals and killer solos. Pretty sure this album is going to make it to my end of the year list.
    4/5

  • Dirk Kennedy

    I wonder where they got that album title. :) sounds familiar