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Hibernal - The Machine CD (album) cover

THE MACHINE

Hibernal

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.95 | 74 ratings

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ScorchedFirth
4 stars (7/10)

Hibernal is the name of the 'band', but really it's a mostly one-man project. The man behind Hibernal is Australian Mark Healy. As far as I'm aware, "The Machine" is his first effort, and has deservedly garnered some attention and praise recently. I listened to the album on BandCamp and was pretty intrigued by what I heard. Mark Healy (Bonestorm here on ProgArchives) very generously gave me a free download after I messaged him. In my messages to him I described the album as 'depressing as hell... but in a really good way' (well that's the clean version at any rate). This was my first impression, and it only seems to strengthen with each listen.

The music could be described as post-rock, though it does contain elements from metal and space rock (and some electronic too). The main strength is the dark storyline that runs through the album. To summarise: it is the first-person account of an ambitious man working his way up through a giant corporation ('Machine Co.', I assume a nod to PF), slowly sacrificing everything until it is too late to turn back. That doesn't quite do it justice though. The whole thing is set in a dystopian future, where every time the narrator is promoted, part of him is literally replaced with machinery, to go along with the less physical manifestations of the loss of his humanity (working longer and longer hours, giving up on the dream of learning guitar because his new machine hand symbolically rejects playing it, even forgetting who his girlfriend is). Details are kept deliberately vague to give a timeless quality to the story: when this is set, where this is set, what the narrator's background is, or even just his name. I especially like that we never find out specifically what the company even does, because the truth is it doesn't matter - that's the point. The passage of time is also not clear, the narrator only realising too late that it's been a matter of decades when he is offered his final (horrifying) upgrade/promotion.

The parts of the narrator, his girlfriend (Mary) and his boss (Mr. Wilkins) are all played well. I especially like the cold clean detachment of the narrator as he describes his life, whilst still letting the relevant emotions creep in where they are needed. The spoken lines are all the vocals that appear on this album, so the music is all instrumental. Rather than just have an alternating of spoken passages and short instrumentals the album seamlessly blends the two together, often with one over the top of the other. In fact the tracks aren't really songs, they are more like chapters, with the whole concept album flowing very naturally. "The Machine" is something like one part dystopian radio drama, one part atmospheric post-rock concept album. The music moves through the mechanical metallic and the melancholy melodic, always fitting the storyline perfectly.

The often sparse instrumentation gives an intimate personal feeling, and the music builds and dissipates with great skill, making "The Machine" quite an absorbing experience. It has a very atmospheric style that emphasises the slow build of sounds and transitioning between the soft and harsh, loud and quiet. There is a unified sound, which works well in the story context, though I do feel that more variety could have been incorporated without damaging the arc of the album too much. You may then think that hearing the same story over and over could get boring, but in fact the creeping inevitability of storyline makes it still good for repeated listening.

The tension of this album is brilliant, and builds right up to the sense of dread in last song, as you know what's going to happen and it's dragged out over nearly ten minutes with excruciating unavoidable tragedy, as the narrator makes his last (alas, too late) struggles before ultimately succumbing to his fate. He is machine now, part of "The Machine", and this is the dark note the story ends on, with an unambiguous finality. Bleak, but befittingly so for a modern day cautionary tale. If nothing else, listen to it at least once for the sake of the story, but I'm sure you'll like the music too.

If you want post rock with a bit more mainstream modern progressive influences and a dark poignant storyline that makes you think, this is for you. The overall effect of "The Machine" is quite powerful, especially if you've wasted a chunk of your life in a job that you don't care about. Certainly that was the case for me, although thankfully I am now free of that world, and about to pursue my own dreams!

ScorchedFirth | 4/5 |

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