Asked to think of a spoken word album intermixed with music and I can only come up with Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds. To me, spoken word should be left in the theatre and not let out to a wider audience brought up on wild riffs and edgy vocals. However, us rock, metal and progressive fans are an eclectic lot and I am always prepared to listen to something different. I discovered a lot of great music by taking risks and will always try something new, if only once.
Hibernal is an Australian project dreamed up by Mark Healey, The Machine features the professional voice talents of Rowan Michaels, Samantha Beart and Robert Blythe but is really a solo project based on Mark Healey’s own short story Welcome To The Machine.
Stumbling upon this release by accident I was ready to discard it, thinking it would be, well to use a word, boring! Why do I want to listen to some bloke waffling on about the same old big corporation turns human being into an automaton and loses wife, kids and dog! Let me tell you fellow music fans, how wrong could I have been!
Hibernal tell us that it is a unique prog rock journey that explores the themes of ambition, sadness and the choices we make in our lives, well it is definitely unique, I don’t think I have ever heard anything like it before. The only proviso I would put in is that, because it is a story, you have to listen to the whole album in one go, you cannot just pick a single track or snippet out as stand- alone brilliance. In this fast paced, everything now world we live in that is one negative about the album but, if you have a spare hour, put your headphones on and listen. You need 100% concentration to pick up the whole storyline and distractions can cause you to go back to the start of a track which doesn’t help the listening pleasure either. Even my cats were banished to the garden!
The musical interludes are heavily influenced by Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd, which is no bad thing and really showcase the talent of Mark Healey. We have a low key start with This High as our hero is high up in the offices of his employers, Machine Co. going to a meeting with the spooky Mr Wilkins to receive a promotion before we have our first musical juxtaposition at the start of Downward, a low key guitar very reminiscent of some of Steven Wilson’s best work and which leaves you in an almost sombre mood, this is a very sobering story. The narrative takes us down into the bowels of Machine Co. where our protagonist loses the first part of his humanity, receiving a robotic hand which has no feeling, a frenetic, heavy guitar crashes in as the spoken word peters out leaving you in no doubt that this is not a happy story.
You already get a feeling that there is some rather excellent music joining the spoken word sections and the feeling that you are listening to something completely out of left field intensifies.
An Open Door has the part robot on his way home to his wife before a slow, monotonous bass tone carries on the very sombre mood that runs throughout. Then an almost Opeth like acoustic guitar tingles your senses, his guy can definitely hit the spot with his music. It gives you some idea of a long train journey before we get to Home and hear footsteps overlaid with a more urgent guitar sound and the first argument with his wife. Corporate life is already taking its toll and the realisation that his hand is no longer real, that he might be having regrets about the promotion?
A more urgent bass leads us into Losing Touch and the guitar crunches into the mix, this is getting quite heavy with an almost Sabbath style, influences flying in from all over the musical universe with the bass heavily influencing the sound. The music and spoken word inter-mingle with ease and the story relates how our hero adjusts to his new, metal hand and falls deeper into the clutches of Machine Co. an eerie ending underlaid with that great bass before the guitar kicks in again.
Hard At Work starts with an answering machine message from his wife, he is spending way too much time at work and a short guitar interlude has Mr Wilkins giving out another promotion and the journey yet again into the bowels of Machine Co. This is slowly becoming more of a horror story as more parts of our hero are replaced with robotics, he is becoming less and less human. The music is mirroring the story, almost creepy in sound, guitar and bass bringing a heavy influence, I find myself almost holding my breath wondering what is going to happen next, is this story relived all over the world as we let our working lives take over? A shiver down my spine! This is almost like an audiobook with music.
One Last Glimpse is echoing my thoughts as the working life of our part robot has nearly taken over and he doesn’t even realise his wife has left him, an almost mournful acoustic guitar picks up the musical narrative and I find myself feeling for this guy and wondering how I’d deal with the situation. I realise that this story and music are becoming intertwined and the music is telling nearly as much as the narrative.
The sobering, sombre style of music picks up again at the start of Disconnection and you get the intended impression that this is serious thought provoking stuff, my smile was left behind a long time ago and my brain is working overtime. The machine part of our hero is taking over and he seems to be in the background of his own mind as work projects are completed and meetings undertaken, the grungy guitar sound kicks in, slow paced as the story continues with more and more robotic replacement parts replacing his flesh and blood, has the corporation finally taken the humanity out of this man? He attends what he thinks is a meeting and doesn’t even realise it is his wife he is talking to, surely he is lost to us now? A plaintive, echoing acoustic guitar picks up the story and there is almost a real sadness in the tone as the song is lead out by a great piece of guitar playing, my first impressions that this guy can play being confirmed.
Years sees our hero becoming part of the elite but losing his human emotions and all idea of time, the little piece of humanity that is left in him utterly shocked, does he have one last chance? One more modification? Would that be the end of any semblance of humanity?
We reach the final part of this salutary tale, The Coldness begins with what little part of humanity in him trying to escape but it is too late, his robot body takes him down into the bowels of Machine Co. for one last time. This is becoming very intense as a slow mournful guitar leads us towards what you know will be an horrific conclusion to the story. The heavier guitar overlays in the background, the music continuing the narrative as before, you realise that you have been captivated for the best part of an hour, what is going to happen next? The elevator arrives and the last vestiges of what is human of our hero try to fight the inevitable conclusion but it is too late now, the automaton has taken over, all his memories are leaving him now. A heavier guitar sound takes us relentlessly to the conclusion of this immersive experience, the ending almost like running into a brick wall.
You need to give yourself 5 minutes after you have listened for the first time, this is no happy tale. An allegory for the modern world and how we let ourselves be herded like sheep perhaps but a great piece of unique and unusual progressive music. It will not appeal to everyone due to the starkness and bleakness of the story and the fact you must listen to it all in one go. I really enjoyed it, now where are my headphones so I can listen to it again!!!