Machina Kore’s new ‘Blood In Code’ E.P: To Grow Or Not To Grow? (Uncut)
After listening to the live play through of Machina Kore’s E.P release on YouTube a fortnight ago, I messaged Sean (Haughian, Machina Kore bassist) to tell him how much I liked it. I believe my exact words were, ‘It’s jolly good’. He responded jokily, ‘reports are it’s a bit of a grower so feel free to listen to it another 99 times!’ I disagreed about it being a ‘grower’ as even on first listen it was clear to me that Machina Kore are a seriously good band with a seriously good E.P (‘jolly’ in the British sense of the word) Either way I assured ‘Finney’ I would listen to it some more and offered to write a review.
No stranger to the concept of the ‘grower’, as a lifelong Pearl Jam fan (Seattle based grunge- rock band established in the early 90’s), I found myself defending album after album of theirs over the years, to fair weather ‘fans’ who hoped every subsequent record released by the band would be the same classic, smash- success that their debut album ‘Ten’ was. They wanted Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen, but they got ‘Vs.’ ‘Vitalogy’ ‘No Code’, ‘Binaural’ and six further equally evolved ensembles, of a group of musicians continually trying to identify and honour their current sound. Growers they were, and grow they did, alongside me, as I in turn, continually tried to figure out what my current ‘sound’ was. I never did quite grasp what I was hearing with Pearl Jam until after the initial few listens though. Perhaps for this reason I was quick to dismiss the ‘grower’ label in consideration of Machina Kore.
Machina Kore’s members have not only been trying to find their own sound over the years, but their own band. For as long as I remember there being rock bands in Lurgan, Moro (Gareth Morrow) was in one. If you hail from the generation I do, and the rock music subculture that existed alongside it, it’s likely you met Moro at one time or another. Known then for his Dave Mustaine- esque (Megadeth frontman) long hair, band T. Shirts (some things don’t change) and punk rock garage bands, he was always dedicated to music.
If you were lucky enough to know any of the band members that hired out practice space in, ‘The Pad’, a vacant space above Noel Magee’s, ‘The Shop’, on Charles Street in Lurgan; housing then band, ‘Tilted’, among others, not only did you have shelter from the rain on the weekends but you were probably at least semi- interested in local music. This is where you might have come across musicians like Moro, whose seriousness about heavy metal continued long after that era.
Fast forward to the University years, and a young rock enthusiast like myself was spoiled for choice when it came to local rock and metal gigs in Belfast in the early noughties. If you were in any way interested in succeeding as a rock musician in Northern Ireland at that time, Belfast was the only place to be. Bus rides to Newry Parochial hall for, ‘Battle of the Bands’ shows, and sitting in shabby garages and practice spaces on a Friday night just to hear (any) live rock music were a thing of the past for this fan. I could now pick and choose from a plethora of Northern Irish unsigned acts on any given night of the week for years to come, as with each annual influx of students came an annual influx of new musicians. Naturally, I picked all of it and chose every night!
A great scene for fans of local music but often a frustrating one for the bands themselves, one of the problems with being musically successful in Northern Ireland was that, often, Belfast was where that success plateaued. For several reasons it was historically more difficult for bands to break out of our wee country than it was for their UK counterparts. That being said, if you were from Lurgan, and regularly headlining gigs in Belfast, you were doing alright, but probably shouldn’t give up your day job just yet.
Nonetheless, out of this scene Moro and, later, Comber drummer, Ben ‘Blademan’ Simpson, found recognition, becoming a city favourite and household name amongst metal heads as members of Northern Ireland metal band, ‘Sinocence’. Belfast rockers would associate you with Sinocence on hearing you were from Lurgan and you may or may not be judged accordingly!
Well received and well respected, Sinocence did their time on the Belfast music circuit, regularly playing venues such as Katy Daly’s and Auntie Annie’s before ascending to more high profile support slots and festivals and regularly playing UK and Ireland tours, until Moro’s resignation nearly 2 decades later, and Simpson’s forced sabbatical due to a shoulder injury brought their time in the band to an end.
Closer to home, bass player, Finney, was putting in the hours and the effort in the ever- improving Lurgan circuit, where gigs had moved on, from upstairs basements to downstairs bars. Persevering with passion he was determined to succeed with longtime local hometown hero’s, ‘Phoenix Dawn’, until the musical equilibrium of that band broke down due to the unfortunate departure of their Lurgan drummer, Kevin Neeson and a lack of restoration thereafter.
Further afield, Dungannon lead guitarist, Shane Comac, was equally committed to and submerged in a flourishing musical career for the same few decades performing for the most part as Angus Young, in well renowned AC/DC tribute act he had formed, AZ/DZ. An impressum which was followed by a change of direction and solo career until circumstances put the brakes on music for him indefinitely due to illness in the family.
It’s clear from a glance at each band member’s portfolio that passion, potential and promise have been prevalent in spades throughout the preceding decades of Machina Kore’s formation. Sadly, as is often the case with rock n’ roll there has also been difficulty, discouragement and disillusionment. Breakdowns of respective creative projects that involved massive personal investment, and each of them being forced into some degree of musical hiatus, albeit due to differing circumstances pre- lockdown; be it injury, illness or insurmountable differences within bands, have inevitably contributed to each musician exploring their own new sounds, actual and metaphorical; ultimately culminating in Machina Kore.
In just a few weeks, ‘Blood In Code’ has had a few hundred listens on Spotify and YouTube already and has garnered interest as far and wide as the United States. I’m not sure if I’ve given it the allegedly required 99 plays yet, but I have been enjoying listening to the E.P daily since it’s release. ‘Blood In Code’ consists of four tracks; ‘Wither’, ‘Exile’, ‘Footprint On A Death Mask’ and ‘God from Machine’.
‘Wither’ is a 1 minute and 26 second intro. Dark and melancholic keys and strings overlaid with a timid tiptoeing up and down the higher notes, and a rising background of bolder and resolute sounds, akin to Iron Maiden’s Empire Of The Clouds (2015) and reaching an abrupt crescendo that creates a platform to broadcast the rest of the E.P from. It’s darkness feels like a eulogy, it’s sadness like a funeral, it’s rising and falling keys like a gentle hope, and it’s boldness like a resurrection. It reflects the withering elements of the band as each member lays their prior career to rest making room for a new journey.
The beginning of that journey is, somewhat oxymoronically, ‘Exile’. Beginning with a solid back- to- basics thrash/ industrial metal intro, recalling bands like Anthrax, Slayer and Ministry, the song quickly steers us onto a more prog- rock, Dream Theatre- esque trajectory towards vocals reminiscent of Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle); moving back and forth through a spectrum of whispers, talking, singing, and shouting with varying degrees of melody and intensity throughout, culminating at the height of vocal conviction with a few expletives thrown in for extra catharsis.
From the offset, ‘Footprint On A Death Mask’ has been my favourite track. If ‘Exile’ was the start of the journey; a sudden and unexpected thrust back to basics followed by an exploration of how to move forward (not unlike lockdown for many of us), then ‘Footprint On a Death Mask’ may represent a period of soul searching for Machina Kore and/ or the general populous that followed. ‘Footprint On A Death Mask’, starts out slow and atmospheric like ‘Wither’, but maintains a solidly heavy foundation (a combination I’m a sucker for in a metal song). With a menacing bass and threateningly rapid drumming it becomes soulfully emotive; expelling disappointment, hurt, pain and angst, yet building courage and conviction and surging forward with renewed hope and strength.
The lyrics of ‘Footprint…’ also get me in the feels, recalling those of Pantera’s, ‘Walk’, (‘Be yourself, by yourself’), and Metallica’s, ‘The House That Jack Built’, from previous eras, in what I like to think of as Machina Kore’s nod to their own hero’s as they move further away from the influences of their youth. Wether or not Machina Kore write solely from pandemic experience I can’t say, but their lyrics are certainly relatable in this context; ‘Invisible, global infection. Taking its toll, viral resurrection’, and, ‘Stand up face your fears, embrace your calling. We can make it through some how’ – eloquent lyrics for extraordinary times.
There’s poetry not only in the lyrics themselves but in their execution. Words are vocalised in run- on lines:
‘No I can take it- Gonna take more than sentiment to break me- promises; the house that Jack built- Never last- Back from the dead- Footprint on a Death Mask’
like a vocalised, industrialised Seamus Heaney poem. This is true to form as the Irish typically have a lot to say, and seemingly not enough breaths to say it in! (Current review withstanding!)
And on that note, the final track; ‘God from Machine’. With a bold and unapologetic Fear Factory/ Machine Head – esque start this track, for me, epitomises the comeback/ debut that is Machina Kore’s, ‘Blood In Code’. Combining elements of all previously named artists there’s a specific undercurrent of Metallica’s ‘Ride The Lightening’ era (1984), fused with some Devin Townsend- like experimentalism, a touch of Maiden’s theatricality and some rugged Layne Staley (Alice In Chains) sounding vocals; all thrusting forward on a track that musically tells the world; ‘We withered and died but we’re back so brace yourselves’. Lyrically, ‘God from Machine’ pulls no punches either:
‘Have you ever felt so angry, you wanted to tear everything down?’, and, ‘Take all the pain away and make me whole again. The pain, it stays. I feel control within’, and perhaps, most tellingly, ‘I was a dead man. Now watch me come alive’.
The signature of this track however, is its short (27 seconds), but spectacularly sweet guitar solo held up like a trophy in all its glory as a symbol of faithfulness to the history of metal and a promise of more to come.
At the time of finishing this review, I may well have heard ‘Blood In Core’, or at least parts of it, 99 times, as I have consistently listened to it while writing in an attempt to do it justice. I wondered more than once if, as well as being a musical re- awakening in the band, there had also been a spiritual awakening. If Machina Kore were the machine of ‘God From Machine’, then it would suggest so with lyrics like, ‘There’s god in this machine’, which is in stark contrast to Sinocence’s 2018 E.P title, ‘No Gods, No Masters’. As it happens it’s a song about humanity’s blind march towards technological singularity; the god of ‘God in Machine’ being about humanity merging with the machine; a warning rather than an awakening. On one hand it could be argued that is a spiritual awakening of sorts, while on the other, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Thankfully the beauty of music doesn’t lie in correct interpretation, rather, as E.A. Bucchianeri said, ‘Art is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone will have their own interpretation’.
Spiritual awakening or warning, one thing is certain; musically Machina Kore are wide awake. They’ve been on a journey during hiatus, and after 99 (sic) listens I feel like I’ve been on it with them. Now, not only do I appreciate what a ‘jolly’ good band they are and what a seriously great E.P they’ve produced, but I’ve grown to love ‘Wither’, ‘Exile’ and ‘God from Machine’ almost as much as ‘Footprint on a Death Mask’. Thus, it seems Sean and I were both right; it’s an obviously great record from the get- go and a grower to boot. Who knew it was possible?
Let’s hope this time around, in this new version of themselves as musicians, that Machina Kore can grow further afield. If I’ve learned anything from my own spiritual awakening, it’s that the best growth occurs on a solid foundation. That being the case, it shouldn’t take long for the Machina Kore name to grow globally. This writer for one, will be rooting for them.