Whilst lumped into the basket of ‘Melodic Death Metal’, there is a quality and originality of Universum’s latest release Mortuus Machina that transcends the genre whilst retaining enough melodic death metal attributes to make it appealing to most melodeath fans but more importantly, fans of good metal in general.
Due to the high proficiency of the instrumentalists, inclusion of international renowned melodic death artists and the top notch Swedish production, on first spin an unseasoned listener may mistake this as just another good Swedish melodic death metal album. On the contrary, after a few listens the depth and variation of this album becomes apparent, and also that Universum meld a wider variety of styles and sounds than the average run of the mill, dime a dozen melodic death bands that are prolific these days. Alternatively they successfully utilise influences from classic rock, 90’s thrash, melodic death and industrial metal and combine them modern overtones and production. Because of this, perhaps it is fitting that with this album the band seems to be distancing themselves from the melodic death tag and instead now refer to their style as simply “Modern Melodic Metal”...? Disregarding pigeonholing, this album is just plain great metal listening.
Initially gaining plenty of attention with 2008's debut album Leto Destinatus, the Australian based metalers first displayed the solid foundations of their developing style with layers of heavy guitar riffs, simple melodies, atmospheric keyboards, solid vocals and intelligent song writing. Mortuus Machina has seen Universum expand effectively on the predecessor, but at the same time they leave behind some of the slower, slightly less inspiring moments and the aforementioned, somewhat restrictive mould of exclusively playing melodeath styled metal.
Mortuus Machina opens with the heavy but extremely catchy track ‘Fractured Archetype’, and it doesn’t let up from there on in. With guest vocals from Christian Älvestam and excellent back to back solos by guitarists Stephen Murphy and Michael Soininen mid track, ‘Fractured Archetype’ is an instant favourite but doesn’t get old quickly either. ‘Genetic Sequence Distortion’ follows with an awesome groove, more superb guitar solos by Michael Soininen and some straight out heavy riffing that fans of classic The Haunted will appreciate. Vocalist Adam Soininen’s vocal work is powerful and precise throughout, varying from brutal lows growls to dominating mid range and highs screams.
The third and seemingly slowest track on the album ‘Sum of the Universe’ is very melodic but by no means a lightweight track. Also including guest vocals from the mighty Älvestam and also some awesome guitar solo work from Nightrage guitarists Marios and Olaf, this track is very catchy and melodic but retains the essential heaviness. With three great tracks opening the album, Mortuus Machina continues with yet another standout track ‘Aeon Displacement’. This track increases in heaviness from the predecessors and displays some awesome, fast and frenetic kick drumming, not to mention the now expected display of rifftastic hooks and some excellent keyboard work from Rachael Madden. Pleasantly surprised by the way Universum have managed to widely vary tracks from one to the next on Mortuus Machina without the album sounding disjointed, the following tracks ‘2.0’, ‘Slaves to the New Order’ and ‘Take Another’ provide further stylistic variations but also additional heavy metallic treats with a superb display of captivating song based metal. Another gem for the melodically inclined follows with the very cool ‘Asymmetric Dimensional State’, which features mighty fine vocal performance from second guest vocalist Tommy Tuovinen of Finnish band myGrain. Also including trilogy of impressive solos including that of ex Soilwork guitarist Ola Frenning, ‘Asymmetric Dimensional State’ is definitely very enjoyable for what is probably one of the lighter and more melodic tracks on the album. As the album draws to a close, ‘Morte Noir’ injects yet another measure of heaviness with some great hooks and powerful drum riffage and is trailed by the darkly captivating but possibly more tradition Swedish melodic death styled ‘Transcendence 0.0’. A final awe-inspiring moment and maybe the biggest surprise on Mortuus Machina is the epic, monolithic riff-laden ‘Blank Infinity’. This track closes the album in style by effectively taking the listener through varied moods of hate, desolation and despair with a combination of simple, heavy, and at times intricate riffing, interwoven with misery laden keyboard melodies and a combination of brutal and diverse drumming.
Whilst maybe not as commercially appealing to less seasoned metal fans as their debut ‘Leto Destinatus’ and works by comparative artists, the heavier and darker ‘Mortuus Machina’ provides testimony that Universum are here to stay and that the Australians can match it with the best of the world’s best.
Believe the hype; Mortuus Machina is the standout album it was rumoured to be, albeit released a bit later than originally touted...