Music Reviews

Artist: Tribal Machine (@)
Title: The Orwellian Night
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Distributor: Amazon
Rated: *****
Here I am with a brand new batch of CDs to review and first up is Tribal Machine from Victoria, British Columbia (Canada, for those who really suck at geography) with their new album 'The Orwellian Night'. I will give these guys extra credit for including an elaborate presskit even before reviewing the album. Like many artists I whose albums I get to review, I never heard of these guys before now. 'The Orwellian Night' is their 3rd album, and a concept album at that. As you may have guessed from the title, inspired by George Orwell's '1984' ' a dystopian future kind of thing, but instead of an Oligarchy, it's an oppressive Corporatocracy. Sound familiar? Yep, we're already heading in that direction.

The main man behind the music is Sever Bonny (vocals, keys, additional guitar), with support by Brian Hartlen (lead guitar); Brad Wutke (bass); Dustin Fleming (drums) and Paul Abrahamse (guitar intro on one song). Also, Sever tells us that Aslan (ex-Birthday Massacre bass player) has recently joined Tribal Machine. The album was mastered by Tom Baker whose credential include Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson'¦nice if you can afford it'¦guess that's why the sound quality is so good. But what about the music?

'The Orwellian Night' sounds like a hybrid of progressive and industrial rock, an interesting concept in itself that you don't hear a lot of groups attempting to this degree. Mr. Bonny's highly stylized and often theatrical vocals aren't what you'd expect from industrial rock but aren't far afield from progressive art-rock. It may take some getting used to, but overall is fairly rewarding. The music is an amalgam of many influences, both prog and industrial and to dissect them would be a disservice to Tribal Machine; although citing certain elements might be helpful to give an idea of what you can expect.

Before I do that though, I should say that I believe concept albums are terribly difficult to pull off from any kind of commercial standpoint. For every successful one, there are ten or more failures. Even the big names aren't immune (to wit, Nine Inch Nails' YEAR ZERO; Godley & Crème's CONSEQUENCES; Meatloaf's BAT OUT OF HELL II & III; Pete Townsend's IRON MAN and PSYCHODERELICT; ALICE COOPER GOES TO HELL, etc.). Concept albums that have been successful over the years like Pink Floyd's THE WALL and DARK SIDE OF THE MOON; The Who's TOMMY and QUADROPHENIA; Jethro Tull's THICK AS A BRICK; THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL by Nine Inch Nails; LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY by Genesis; Meatloaf's BAT OUT OF HELL; Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT, Bowie's ZIGGY STARDUST among numerous others have had at least one great song on them (that commercial hit), and in some cases, more than one. Still, in order to make the 'concept' work, by necessity there have to be songs that are more important to maintaining the theme than contrived commercial 'hits'. Striking a balance is the tricky part; you don't want to end up with a 'Mr Roboto' on your hands.

If anything, 'The Orwellian Night' definitely has its memorable parts while remaining faithful to its theme. There is 'The Infiltrator,' with its alternately frenetic, then measured pacing, distinctive vocal line and lyrics, and chaotic industrial interludes; The Arrest' with its 60's garage-rock meets Flying Lizards verses and contrasting Gary Numanesque chorus; the buzzer-beat beginning and woozy-bluesy fatalism of 'Across the Land' with its salient chorus; the beat-heavy 'Eye Spy' and appropriately manic and demented vocals; the from a whispery ballad to bombastic lunacy of 'Mr. Corporation,' ever so much like Roger Waters; the NIN-like power riff and bassline of 'Indoctrination'; 'Burn' ' with a galloping pace reminiscent of early Genesis; the poignant sadness and drama of 'The Factory,' and the Eastern tinged instrumental 'The Journey'.

This is an album that takes time to get into. You may not even like it at first. (It took me about five listenings to really appreciate it.) While I don't hear any big hits (probably not what Tribal Machine intended anyway), and there are some things on it I still don't care for, there is enough good material on 'The Orwellian Night' to make it worth checking out. The lyrics seem a bit awkward in spots, a few songs lack some pizzazz, but overall this is a pretty good album. Only the music buying public can determine whether this album will be an underground classic or fade into obscurity. For Tribal Machine's sake, I hope it is the former rather than the later, as adventurous albums like this don't come along all that often.

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