Wolverine is a longrunning and slightly unappreciated progressive metal act from Söderhamn, Sweden. They caught my ear a few years ago with the CD “Communication Lost”, a great collection of songs that could hastily be described as a less experimental Pain of Salvation. This band plays progressive metal in the highest division, and frankly it’s strange that they aren’t hailed as one of the genre greats. Hopefully, this long awaited fifth album can get them a bit closer.

The highlight on “Machina Viva” is the same as on previous Wolverine albums: Stefan Zell’s vocals. He packs a striking, powerful tone slightly similar to Daniel Gildenlöw’s that easily penetrates the speakers. He also has a broad range, which allows him to navigate everything from big rock choruses to stripped down ballads with ease.

The lyrical concepts on this album are dark, to say the least. Loss, longing, memories and isolation are recurring themes. The lyrics can get a bit overly obvious and cliché at times, but the conviction in the musical delivery neutralizes that problem. The exceptional vocal performance puts the themes in a sincere forefront in songs like “Pile of Ash”, “Our Last Goodbye” and “Sheds”.

Wolverine feels like a band that can satisfy quite a few different crowds in the progressive sphere. There is an obvious appeal for those who are into the lighter breed of prog metal/rock, such as Pain of Salvation, Riverside and Porcupine Tree. The depressive topics should also make it interesting for fans of Katatonia and Anathema. The Dream Theater crowd might find some value in here as well, despite that the album is not very focused on technicality. This is a professional package, perfected both in terms of performance and production.

Sheer tightness aside, I get the feeling that Wolverine payed attention to detail and rearranged the compositions a lot before settling. Every moment in every song feels tasteful and in place. However, “Machina Viva” is certainly not a heavy or riff based album. The rhythm guitars mostly serve as a support for the vocal melodies and song arrangements.

Keyboards linger in the mix and add some atmosphere without taking over, and there are occasional moments where electronics and piano are allowed to take the lead role in the music. The rhythm section is not that noticeable. It might be a side effect of the slick production job, and it’s not really a negative as it allows the songs and vocals to shine.

The heavier tracks such as 14 minute opener “The Bedlam Overture” and riffy (well, as riffy as Wolverine gets) “Pledge” are great, but the band shines even more when the intensity is turned down. “Pile of Ash” has a strong emotional impact and carries some of the most memorable vocal lines on the whole album, and stripped down closer “Sheds” allows Stefan Zell’s voice to shine in a ballad environment.

“Sheds” is a fitting final note that momentarily bears some similarity to Coldplay’s “Fix You”. It’s a slow ballad featuring only Zell’s vocals and some light organ parts. The difference is that it never picks up for the uplifting ending. Zell simply clarifies that there is no place for him in this world, and the song fades out on a mellow electronic note. Certainly a highlight.

The dynamic shifts between the songs and lack of filler material makes the album exciting enough to warrant the long running time (over an hour). This is a quality progressive metal album topped off with a superb vocal performance, and I can’t recommend it enough for fans of the style.

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