Master Boot Record – Personal Computer Review

For the three of you who haven’t yet encountered me gushing about Master Boot Record, here’s the summary. Decreasingly anonymous Italian musician Victor Love, inspired by classic 16-bit video game soundtracks and the harsh sound of a floppy drive stepper motor1, synthesizes heavy metal. Despite sounding like a one-album novelty, Personal Computer is MBR‘s eighth full-length in seven years and they’re signed to Metal Blade. Their endurance, and popularity, follows from one simple fact: behind the novelty, MBR just writes really, really good music. Still, a reasonable person might wonder what more record number eight can add without a dramatic change of pace. MBR has flirted with experimentation in the pastwith the addition of vocals on Direct Memory Access, for examplebut this is a project that hit on its core sound pretty early. Personal Computer does come after (by MBR‘s prolific standards) a hiatus and chance to consider next steps, but does that bring change?

Certainly, there’s no revolution in MBR‘s style here. Programmed drums and buzzing floppy drive synths provide the rhythm section. Distorted melody synths soar, flutter and shred. MBR leans fully into the inhumanity of its instrument lineup, with progressions not even Archspire could pull off with real musicians. Of course, many tracks wouldn’t be out of place as the soundtrack to a video game action sequence (“80286”). As before, there’s an initially surprising range of influences on the songwriting. Strong baroque and classical influences show in the construction of the melodies and the occasional use of harpsichord and organ-like synths (“80186,” “80686”). Death, thrash (“80186,” “80386SX”) and doom (“80486SX”) drive the riffs (and perhaps explain why a suspicious number of my more brutal colleagues like MBR). As you’d expect from successful instrumental music, the song structure leans into prog, rarely lingering on one thing for too long.

Nonetheless, changes are afoot on Personal Computer. Subtly, but noticeably (before I’d read the promo copy!), for the first time since the project’s inception, MBR have rewritten all the synth patches. Perhaps ironically for a band so digital in aesthetic, the upgraded versions pick a more naturalistic sound. The drums are less artificial. The core stepper motor synths are richer and more detailed. And the melody synths are warmer and less harsh. This is perhaps a risky move, and the effect when compared side-by-side to the older albums is almost jarring. The new version is less in-your-face. But… it’s better. The melody and rhythm sections sound more like a coherent whole and less like they’re floating separately in the mix. A less garish presentation allows for more appreciation of the depth.

This is still the same MBR; a year off to reflect has certainly produced a more polished result, but that’s all. Despite my insatiable requirement for coding music, sooner or later I’m going to run out of things to say that I didn’t already say in the last review.2 If I had to gripe about the changes, I’d say that the new version doesn’t lean enough into the new drums. MBR toured live in the Before Times with a real drummer and it worked great. The track with the best drumming (late-album highlight “80586”) is also the best track. More interesting drumming elsewhere would elevate the whole thing. Also, with the track names charting 20 years of the progression of Intel’s pivotal x86 CPU line, there was a golden missed opportunity here to start from drone and end on tech death as the CPUs get faster. (No? Okay, maybe not.)

Ultimately though, people come to MBR for furious riffs and mad, catchy melodies. Personal Computer brings enough bangers to heartily recommend to long-term MBR fans. And if you’re not a long-term fan, Personal Computer is a great place to become one. MBR remain unparalleled in the synth/metal crossover space, and have few equals anywhere in metal for straight-up melodic riffing. Much like the CPUs the album takes its song titles from, Personal Computer is a story of incremental improvements over the previous version, not revolutionary changes. You might not strictly need to buy every updated release. But they do get better each time, and sooner or later you’re going to want another.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: masterbootrecord.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/masterbootrecordmusic
Releases Worldwide: May 13th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. For the benefit of the younger members of the audienceand staffa floppy disk looks like a giant save icon, and it’s where we used to save files before the internet was invented.
  2. As you can see, I used up all my computing puns on that one.
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