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This is your brain on skooma. - 30%

Diamhea, October 30th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Spinefarm Records

I know I skipped over Rise of a Digital Nation, but this decision was predominantly based around the fact that there isn't a whole lot for me to say regarding it. Suffice to say, if you enjoyed A View from the End of the World you will feel relatively at home there. The biggest plus as far as I interpreted it was Stjärnström's vocals, which finally yielded their long-standing tenure as a liability. Alternatively, a void was certainly felt through the absence of the more clinical, SID-centered mid-paced numbers like "Oki Kuma's Adventure," "Edge and Pearl" and "Dark City" that have always come off as exceptionally fresh and helped center much of the band's earlier appeal. That all said, "All of My Angels" and "Republic of Gamers" were scintillating exercises in melodic excess that retained just enough of the (sadly deteriorating) metal element to regulate Machinae Supremacy's aural homeostasis, which honestly comes close to being a fucking mess when one steps back and actually scrutinizes its internals.

Well, that fucking mess just so happens to be Phantom Shadow, during which Machinae Supremacy consciously shit the bed and take more than just a few steps back, for what ends I fail to fully comprehend. One of the most crucial complaints I observed concerning its predecessor was a marked lacking concerning the electronic elements, which is a valid critique as far as I see it. So it only serves to confound that the band disposed of their most defining attribute even more here, and scaled back nearly every other cornerstone appeal. What we are left with is a bloated, incoherent mess of alternative rock punctuated with some ludicrous narrative that reads like some sort of Deviantart lurker's wet dream. Is it ambitious? I suppose, but only insofar that is precariously stretches an already winded formula past the point of transparency.

Perhaps even worse, Stjärnström is back to bleating nasal diatribes instead of playing up the wider range he earned between A View from the End of the World and Rise of a Digital Nation. This on its own isn't a breaking point, but when he is reaching back to past shadows lyrically on elementary wordplay outings like "Perfect Dark" and "Throne of Games" (seriously?) it just serves to accentuate his flaws even further. In my frustration, I turn the the riffs and electronics to deliver, but there is little of value behind these doors either. Leads are rangy, but the note progressions utilized sound frankly made up on the spot half of the time, really failing to bask in the consistent radiance evident on earlier outings like "Force Feedback" and "Cybergenesis." I was really hoping that Tomi Luoma would carry some of that stereotypical Finnish melodicism over the border, but it appears that his input has more or less diffused into the band's already existing framework, to little effect as well mind you.

Citing standouts is a precarious venture indeed, as Phantom Shadow is haphazardly littered with needless spoken word bits and the like. Thankfully, the band has mercifully separated most of them into standalone tracks for easy skipping, but the damage caused by the vapid pretense of the entire ordeal stretches further than this alone. Much of this is accounted for by a number of gut-wrenchingly uneventful longer numbers like "Hubnester Rising" and "Versus," during which the band tries to account for the story by tacking a number of movements together, but most of these songs just fail to reach any logical conclusion. There is no variance in gradation or atmosphere - just the burnt-toast equivalent of Machinae Supremacy's basic template. Okay, the one exception to all of this is "The Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall," which features very few lyrics and rides a great SID line into the ground. This wouldn't sound out of place on the band's best work and gets two big thumbs up from me. Others sort of straddle the line, like "Phantom Battle," which is a standard Machinae Supremacy tune and is much shorter and easy to take in on the fly. "Renegades" sounds pretty good opening up, but suffers from most of the pitfalls that dog the rest of the album, insofar that these Swedes were simply not meant to craft six-plus minute anthems without enough assistance from the SID chip.

There is just enough of a trace remaining for me to call this a Machinae Supremacy record, but Phantom Shadow comes damn close to atom-bombing nearly everything the band has built up to this point. Will their rabid fanbase have the presence of mind to remove the blinders and see this as the bloated deviation that it is? Probably not, but all of the band's earlier albums were easy to pick apart and appreciate song-by-song, something that this record wholly fails to do. "The Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall" saves it from being a total waste, and the crowd that this caters to will probably enjoy it, but these guys shouldn't quit their day jobs after this misstep.