Back in 2013, New Keepers of the Water Towers‘ Cosmic Child found its way onto my playlist. Not having heard the Swedes prior work, it was difficult to gauge what to expect. I delved into their back catalog as any “good reviewer” does and unfortunately it failed to make any lasting impression. Cosmic Child, was a different story altogether! Offering a departure from the band’s earlier style, I found Cosmic Child a welcome incursion into retro Sabbath, Zeppelin and Pink Floyd with the modern contrast of Opeth and Tool. Infernal Machine, is the band’s latest offering, and once again, New Keepers have put an interesting twist on their sound. Infernal Machine is a seven-part journey, creating the soundtrack to Joe Haldeman’s 1974 novel The Forever War. The story, loosely depicts Haldeman’s military service during the Vietnam War, with the account chronicled as a space opera where the military fails to see its soldiers as any more than complex and valuable machines. This seems a large musical undertaking, especially in light that Ridley Scott has had the film idea “in production” since back in 2008….
“The Forever War” opens up echoing with warning. The track’s slow to develop, a nebulous exploration, growing into a mix of screeching mechanical parts and spacey weirdness that reminds me of the delicate side of Opeth and possibly Nightsatan were they to have collaborated with Muse on “Exogenesis Symphony” parts I, II and III. “The Forever War” is one of the few tracks to have vocals. Rasmus Booberg’s vocal style resonates, and there are only a few instances where I can make comparison as he brings to mind Opeth‘s Mikael Åkerfeldt (Still Life era). The instrumentation is precise, with each note well placed. You’re on the edge of your seat waiting for something to happen and you’re well rewarded when Booberg/Berg’s guitar solo kicks in at the 9-minute mark. It’s played high, even shrill at times, penetrating and with an agonizing pace. The track ends on a beautiful note, with only a subtle and delicate melody left to linger.
“Tachyon Deep” and “Escape Aleph Minor” are the only remaining songs with vocals. “Tachyon Deep” uses the pan pipes to lure you in, following up with elements of Nobuo Uematsu‘s style, used on many titles in the Final Fantasy series, to create a contemplative and interlude-like ambience. Booberg once again delivers his vocals with an out-of-body component and you can’t help but wait for them to develop into the growl that Åkerfeldt is known for – that’s not what New Keepers have on offer though. The song has a Tool-like quality, transporting you much like Ka-Mmen, remaining upbeat and somehow soothing at the same time. “Escape Aleph Minor” continues with Nobuo Uematsu likeness, and both the instrumentation and the lyrics hint at running and being hurried. The tune is tastefully packed with quick shifts and changes, the guitar work has a spacey feel and where solos extend they’re so beautifully delivered you can’t help getting tangled in them.
“Tracks Over Carcosa,” “Misantropin Kallar” (outside of a short spoken passage), “Jorden Wave” and “This Infernal Machine” are all instrumental tracks and collectively they feed into the concept that the songs of Infernal Machine are not meant to be played in isolation – they’re part of a bigger whole. There’s no pulling just one track and listening to it, you need to progress through the whole movement to let yourself be completely pulled into The Forever War. Breaking down what you can expect inside each of these tracks would take me a month of Sundays and Angry Metal Guy’s already prodding me to hand in my damn review. In short, musically these tracks follow on from “The Forever War,” “Tachyon Deep” and “Escape Aleph Minor.” You can expect similar tension building effects, drumwork that slams down on you with thunder and deliberation in one moment then near nothingness the next and space – space for thought and space for each deliberately placed note.
Infernal Machine is not traditional metal by any means, but New Keepers pulled together a difficult concept, they’ve given it an fine soundtrack and that’s pretty metal in my mind. My gripes with Infernal Machine are few and far between. Being a huge fan of Cosmic Child, I struggled initially to “fall in love” with the soundtrack aspect of Infernal Machine. It took many repeat listens for the songs to grow in familiarity and for facets of New Keepers personality to make themselves more apparent. I’m also left with the feeling that although Infernal Machine is only made up of seven tracks, there are two filler songs here: “Misantropin Kallar” and “Jorden Wave.” Looking past these however, Infernal Machine is not the kind of album you can put on while you’re working and being bombarded with conversation. There’s so much subtlety embedded into each track, it takes care and concentration to coax them out and to appreciate them. I’m pretty sure that given more time and even more listens, this album would easily achieve the excellence of its predecessor.