It is not often that you are around to witness the start of something new, maybe something groundbreaking but, last August I reviewed something so different to the norm that I struggled to find anything to compare it with, eventually coming up with Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds but, in no way was that a direct comparison. Mark Healy and his Hibernal project produced something that really stuck with me in The Machine, so much so that I gave it four stars on review and, ever since, I have been nagging Mark to distraction to find out when he would be releasing a follow up, well my friends, that time is upon us, Hibernal will be releasing the follow up to The Machine very soon. Replacements will be released on 24th March and, being exceedingly lucky, I have been listening to it for the last week in rapture, you have got something special in store, believe me.
The premise of The Machine was interweaving spoken words with instrumental music pieces to tell a compelling storyline that unfolds throughout the course of the album and, in the main, it worked exceedingly well. For Replacements, Mark has taken his original formula and improved it, in his own words “I think Replacements is a better album for sure. It’s superior in just about every way, but I’ve been keeping that opinion to myself as I want people to form their own opinions”, he continues “part of it is that there’s really no blueprint for this kind of album, nothing to reference. So I corrected a lot of mistakes this time around.”
Utilising the voice talents of Scott Gentle, Faleena Hopkins, Steve Van Beckum and Chip Wood, Hibernal have crafted a synergy of instrumental music and storytelling, delivering another unique sonic journey that blurs the boundaries between music, theatre and film. The very basic storyline is of a man who carries out an empty existence in a near-future dystopian city and, who becomes infatuated with a synthetic female and soon learns that she is on the run from the law.
As was the case with The Machine, Replacements is made up of a number of different pieces each of which adds to the whole experience and, as before, the album is best enjoyed in one listen, like a movie.
In my opinion, The Machine was led by the music, rather than the storyline but, in Replacements it seems to be firmly the other way round. The compelling story line is like a mix of Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall, all set in a dystopian future that could have come from the mind of many a great science fiction writer. The story is told in a crime noire style, like Raymond Chandler meets Ernest Hemingway and you do concentrate on the intriguing tale from the beginning with Replacements Part I, the music is never a distraction and works behind the scenes to enhance the whole aural experience. It has that science fiction soundtrack vibe to it and, on the first track, comes across as menacing, if a little apprehensive, as if all is not right with this world we are about to traverse. The premise of synthetics, robots built to replace humans and to do daily chores, is not a new one but, woven into a complex tale like this one, it takes on a new life. The music sets the scene as our hero is introduced in The City Ebbs Away, the way Mark Healy composes his soundtrack is mightily impressive as it paints a soundscape in your mind, almost as good as actually being there. I find that, as opposed to The Machine, I actually await the spoken parts with anticipation, the storyline is the main focus here, the music its willing partner. The hero of the tale, Artemis is portrayed excellently by Scott Gentle, world weary and with a hidden past, like some hard-nosed private eye form the 1930’s, his voice is perfect for the story and weaves in and out of the perfectly weighted musical pieces, his hesitation and emotiveness when he sees the synthetic for the first time are potent.
As if to prove that the music can be as weighty as the words, The Restless Man begins with a beautifully constructed guitar piece that literally drips with emotion and grabs your attention before a solid, bass driven riff kicks in, all menacing and dark, a jangling guitar note adding a little extra poise. It is at this point that Artemis introduces us to his protagonist, Roegner. It is to their credit that the voice actors convey real emotion into their characters and the coruscating music matches the clashing of personalities very well as Artemis tells his first untruth to help the synthetic. This totally immersive story already has me gripped, life is on hold and the phone is off the hook, let’s continue with Evasion, the trance like music carrying the story on before an addictive bass hook takes the lead, very catchy indeed. The absorbing narrative brings Artemis together with the synthetic for the first time and it’s tense, Roegner is looking for her, can Artemis help? The music has an intensity all of its own, enhancing the tension and riveting you to the spot, will they make their escape? On this track, the music is probably at its most powerful, meaningful guitar hooks and forceful drumming all adding to the gripping story.
The Streets in Darkness begins all moody and sombre, almost as if life has gone into slow motion, the slow paced delivery of the guitar, drums and keyboards giving an impression of a world that is mostly derelict. The music is used to set the scene as Artemis discovers that the synthetic is called Sable and helps her home, you actually feel you are moving from a fast paced city, alive every hour, into a dilapidated district and, the way the words weave the pictures is further evidence that Mark Healy is perfecting his craft. Another powerful, industrial wall of sound works on your mind and emotions. Artemis will not leave things alone as he follows her into The Place Where You Hide, the voiceover keeping you on tenterhooks as we come to the first big twist in the tale, the edgy music working perfectly as the feeling of trepidation increases, what is coming next? The short staccato riff and fervent guitar note lead you in Artemis’ footsteps, a sense of foreboding overcoming you as the solemn guitar takes up the tale. There really is a sense of the music intertwining with the words to form a more complete narrative and I await the next voice over with bated breath, my heart in my mouth. And the twist? Well I am not going to spoil the surprise for you, buy this masterpiece and find out.
Machinations is a short piece that begins with a Floydesque bass note as our major characters conspire and hatch their plans, slightly eerie music enhancing the feeling of a twisting and turning plot. Time Runs Out moves us further into trials and tribulations of Artemis and Sable, Roegner is moving in and getting close to his prey. The pensive guitar note and uncanny sound effects suit the mood perfectly. As the music takes a heavier tone, almost monolithic and dense, there is a definite feeling of uneasiness and misgiving, the mournful guitar just racking up the tension to an almost unbearable level, caught in the headlights, what happens next?
Truth has an inevitability about it, the music coming across as dominant and intelligent, especially on the all encompassing riff, there is going to be a choice to be made that will affect all the characters. This track is possibly the most music intensive one on the album, setting the scene and tone for what is to follow, the narrative offering hints that you barely grasp with your mind and then…… a gunshot! The first time you listen to the album that gunshot at the end is quite shocking, Fragments of the Past is almost cathartic, bringing you back to normal. The music, led by a smooth acoustic guitar and the ever impressive drumming, has a much lighter tone than what has preceded it, occasional forlorn licks adding solidity. Artemis is fighting to find out what is going on and who he really is, I have begun to have a real affinity with both characters and I feel for both as the story continues in a sorrowful vein, the delicate music that follows suits the scene perfectly. There is a rising guitar note that blossoms into a complex section that is part solo and partly a theme, it is at times like this that you realise that Mark Healy has really moved the game on and become a master of this blossoming genre. As we near the end of this fascinating tale, Fallout takes us, once more, down the melodic route with an intense guitar dominated section preceding Artemis tying up a few loose ends and keeping one step ahead of the authorities before he is, finally, in the clear. A thoughtful and sombre guitar tone, repeated then adds to the sense of pensiveness, leaving me feeling quit solemn. Artemis is looking for closure and, in the final act of Hibernal’s totally gripping and riveting drama, Replacements Part II he does something quite shocking. The way that Mark Healy makes you work for the answers to this complex story is very clever, he told me “I did write this one to be not as blunt, leaving some clues for the listener to find and, I hope that helps people with repeat listenings.” At this point, the music takes centre stage and is allowed to lead us out to the end of the album with that intense, intelligent and hypnotising note that has been a feature throughout the album. As the final note bleeds out I am left with a feeling of emptiness, like I am staring into a void, I have come to the end of an incredible tale that has kept my attention for an hour, what can I do now to replace it?
I won’t lie as it’s probably fairly obvious that I am a big fan of Mark Healy and what his Hibernal project produces but, I make no apologies here, Replacements took over my life for a good week, I lived and breathed the whole gripping and immersive storyline, in a world of fast food, faster internet and 24 hour news, a recording that will take up a whole hour of your life will, most likely, not appeal to the go faster generation of today but, if you are prepared to step out of the fast lane and make that 60 minute commitment, you will never regret it and will be thanking me for the rest of your days, this really is that good! So, how did I replace it? I didn’t, I just listened to it one more time!