Master Boot Record – Floppy Disk Overdrive Review

Master Boot Record first came to my attention a few years ago as a novelty synth-metal nerd music act that made good coding music. After a hard disk full of releases in their first couple of years, Interrupt Request was released in 2017. At that point, I suddenly realized that MBR had privilege escalated from novelty act to serious music. Nothing had changed about the style or the presentation, but after iterative improvements, the quality of the songwriting demanded that they be taken seriously. 2018 brought Direct Memory Access on Blood Music, which experimented with adding vocals. After another self-released album in 2019, MBR has signed to Metal Blade to release Floppy Disk Overdrive. As the seventh full-length (plus four EPs) in four years, though, I worried going in that perhaps their methods might be a little too overloaded.

The kernel of MBR’s sound remains the same, and there’s still nothing else that sounds quite like it. Thunderous floppy drive-like synths 1 provide rhythm and bass, with soaring, inhumanly fast, classically-inspired melodic synth leads. Opening song “ANSI.SYS” follows this template, with catchy, twiddly riffs layering and building up into an excellent but standards-compliant MBR song. Clearly aware of the need to introduce new features to differentiate the latest version, though, Floppy Disk Overdrive brings some new ideas when deriving from its base class. DMA’s vocals (which I liked) don’t make a return, but instead we have increased use of clean guitar (still synthesized, of course, and used in a way that references a harpsichord) and a move to more progressive songwriting.

Second track “EDIT.COM” is the reference implementation for the newer, proggier MBR.2 It features sections of harpsichord-like cleans, classic MBR shredding, heavy doom riffs, dancier synthwave, and more over its eight minute plus execution time. Occasionally the mode transitions feel a little awkward, but on the whole it works well. At its best, Floppy Disk Overdrive’s mix-ins from a broader range of influences enhance results without detracting from the core specialization of super catchy synth riffs. “DISKCOPY.COM,” for example, brings a NWoBHM flavor to great effect. “DEFRAG.EXE” adds the clean guitarpsichord in a way that echoes the MIDI soundtracks of classic DOS games like the Ultima series. Unfortunately, it doesn’t all work. Some of the longer pieces burn cycles on unnecessary repetition of non-critical sections. A good example of this is closing track “HIMEM.SYS,” which also suffers from the halting problem: it doesn’t really know how to end, and just peters out unsatisfactorily. And some of the more traditional tracks, while not by any means bad, don’t bring anything that hasn’t been done better on albums past.

Fortunately it all sounds great in its stylized way, as expected: this is not the limited MIDI soundcards of 25 years ago. The loud bits are a saturated firewall of sound; the quiet bits back off noticeably. Every component is clear and occupies its proper place. And songs like “ANSI.SYS,” “DISKCOPY.COM,” and the swaggering groove of “DBLSPACE.EXE” rightfully take their places near the head of the list of MBR’s best songs.

I had some trouble deriving the score for Floppy Disk Overdrive. Developing enough to avoid reimplementing Interrupt Request without losing track of what makes MBR great is a difficult line to walk. While some songs stumble at times and there’s a little padding, they’re not fatal errors by any means. In a way the stumbles remind me of the earliest albums: a prototype of a great idea, but needing some further tuning to fully meet their potential. This is particularly noticeable on the longer, proggier compositions. The odd forced state transition or unterminated loop can be tidied up, and the core code is really solid. And as the major label debut, it’s a solid entry point for those new to MBR. It’s not an essential system component, but it is a recommended one.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 20th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. For those in the audience who are too young to remember what a floppy drive sounds like, YouTube has plenty of music performed on actual floppy drives to get an idea.
  2. EFI?
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